A Victoria Falls magistrate has acquitted a fish poacher who was shot and injured by Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks) rangers in Hwange.
The rangers claimed that Claudius Mhlanga (47) tried to attack them with a kitchen knife during the encounter which occurred on 12 September along the Deka River in the Siankali area.
Victoria Falls resident magistrate Lindiwe Maphosa acquitted Mhlanga this week after a full trial with the court ruling that the two Zimparks rangers that testified gave contradictory accounts of the incident.
In the first count, he was accused of unlawfully using fishing nets and fishing rods to catch fish without a permit.
The second charge related to accusations that he charged towards one of the rangers, Prosper Muleya, who was armed with an AK47 rifle, with a kitchen knife intending to stab him and the third charge was for possession of 50 grammes of cyanide poison.
During cross-examination by Prosecutor Arthur Chindedza, Muleya and his colleague were quizzed about how Mhlanga was shot and the circumstances leading to the discovery of the cyanide.
In her ruling, Maphosa said the state witnesses failed to give consistent accounts of what transpired during Mhlanga’s arrest. Said Maphosa:
The evidence led by the state with regards to count two is incredible and cannot be believed by this court.
The description of the two state witnesses that one man armed with a kitchen knife was advancing towards one of them to attack could actually qualify as an episode in an extremely fictitious movie or a comedy.
The evidence of the state witness in this regard is not true and inconsistent with the injuries sustained by the accused.
The accused’s version is reasonably possible when he says he tried to run, but he was shot when he tried to stop as he was shivering, he lifted his hands in surrender.
I find it that at no point did the accused resist arrest and if he had been advancing with a knife in his right hand then the injury would definitely not be at the back of the hand protruding to the palm.
There are consistent descriptions of the accused, which say he was surrendering with his hands up and was shot from behind and the bullet perforated to the inside, therefore, that charge falls away.
On possession of cyanide, Maphosa said she believed Mhlanga’s account.
Mhlanga had denied possessing cyanide, arguing the poison was planted in his bag by the rangers as he was only shown the substance at the Matetsi police base after he threatened to sue. The magistrate ruled:
I will believe the version by the accused person, which need not be true but reasonably true because the first witness in this evidence seemed to want to distance himself from answering until the prosecutor had to stop him from his meandering answer.
This court confidently proves that the state cannot prove this charge beyond a reasonable doubt, therefore, the accused is found not guilty and acquitted.
Mhlanga was, however, found guilty in the first count and he was handed a fine of $10 000 or three months imprisonment if he does not pay by November 1.
The other three months were set aside for five years on the condition that he does not commit any similar offence.
Maphosa ordered that Mhlanga must be given back his knife while the fish and cyanide were forfeited to the state.