ZLHR honours Masvingo lawyers

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MASVINGO – Three Masvingo lawyers have been honoured by the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) for representing displaced Tokwe-Mukorsi Dam victims, who were arrested following the torching of two police trucks at Chingwizi transit camp in August this year.

Tatenda Chitagu
Own Correspondent

Twenty five of the villagers, who were screened from more than 300, were arrested following the skirmishes, but were acquitted, while four others are still awaiting trial.

Philip Tanaka Shumba, of Mutendi and Shumba Collen Maboke of Maboke and Ruvengo, and Martin Mureri of Mureri and Matutu law firm have been named the 2014 lawyers of the year for the successful and bruising legal fight for the Chingwizi villagers.

They were honoured at a colourful ceremony held at The Meikles Hotel last Friday after beating other shortlisted lawyers from around the country.

Multiple award-winning human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa presented the award.

In a statement, ZLHR said the three lawyers “excelled in protecting and promoting the rights of others throughout 2014” when they successfully won the case of the 25 suspects against all odds after fearlessly representing the villagers leading to their acquittal as the State failed to get incriminating evidence”.

“This is an opportunity for ZLHR to say ‘thank you’ – not only to those shortlisted for awards, but to everyone who has fought to further defend and extend our rights and freedoms in Zimbabwe,” ZLHR said.

“Their clients first suffered the misfortune of being forcibly evicted from their homes in Tokwe-Mukorsi by the government in February 2014 and moved to the barren Chingwizi Transit Camp.

“In August, 300 internally displaced persons, including children, were assaulted, tortured, arrested and detained for allegedly committing public violence after they protested the deprivation and violation of their fundamental human rights as authorities attempted to again forcefully relocate them from Chingwizi to Nuanetsi Ranch. Early this month, justice prevailed when 26 of the 30 Chingwizi villagers were acquitted, four remain on trial, which will continue in January 2015.”

Shumba, who was leading the team of lawyers in the mission, said he was humbled and honoured by the award.

“This is an honour to me and my colleagues and we owe it to the people of Masvingo,” he said in his acceptance speech.

“We will again work hard to secure the release of one villager who is still in police custody over the violence.”

Displaced villagers clashed within police when they resisted being moved from Chingwizi transit camp before receiving at least $9 million as compensation for households and livestock destroyed by the flooding as well as in the relocation exercise.

The riots were another attempt to resist efforts to move them to the plots earmarked for resettlement, demanding bigger plots and cash compensation for property lost during the floods.

Other resistance efforts from villagers included heckling and chasing away 10 Cabinet ministers.

Part of the money for compensation – $2 million – later came, although they were already moved from Chingwizi after their tents were burnt by police in a retributive predawn raid that saw everyone being rounded up and the camp being sealed off.