Senior Court Reporter
The trial of novelist, playwright and filmmaker Tsitsi Dangarembga finally ended yesterday with a $70 000 fine (or three months) after being convicted on charges of staging an illegal demonstration during the Covid-19 national lockdown in Harare during 2020.
Dangarembga, who was jointly convicted with Julie Gabriel Barnes, on charges of participating in a public gathering with intent to cause public violence and violating Covid-19 regulations was given until Tuesday next week to pay the fine.
Harare magistrate Mrs Barbra Mateko also imposed a wholly-suspended six months jail term, but this only becomes active if they commit a similar offence within the next five years.
The two had denied ever participating in a gathering with the intent to breach peace, saying they were just exercising their fundamental rights and expressing their opinion.
They gathered holding cards at the corner of Liberation Legacy Way and Whitwell Road just by Borrowdale Primary School.
Dangarembga and Barnes were holding placards inscribed: “We want better. Reform our institutions. Free Hopewell. Free Jacob #Zimbabwe.”
In her judgment, Mrs Mateko noted that Dangarembga did not dispute participating in a demonstration, but had stressed she walked along the street peacefully.
“She said she did not discuss or talk to anyone,” said Mrs Mateko. “She showed images of the two walking along the road. She insisted that she was expressing her feelings as a citizen and never spoke to journalists.”
But Dangarembga also confirmed that the road is a busy road and she was not aware that she needed authority from the law enforcement agents to express herself.
The court noted that Barnes also told the court that she was expressing herself and that practicing journalism was not a crime.
“Second accused (Barnes) said she was expressing herself on the basis that journalism is not a crime. The journalist Hopewell Chin’ono was in remand prison and she said she was expressing her views,” she said.
Mrs Mateko also said in her judgment that Dangarembga and Barnes wanted to pass a message that they were not happy with the conditions of Chin’ono when they walked in a public place with placards.
She said their intention was to attract public attention and provoke peace.
“It was done at a public place for people to see,” said Mrs Mateko. “The words attracted the general public and the second defence witness said they stopped because of the words on the placards with no specific target.”
Prosecutors Mrs Valerie Ngoma and Mrs Kudzanai Chigwedere proved that on July 31, 2020 and at corner Whitwell and Borrowdale Road, Harare, Dangarembga and Barnes, unlawfully gathered, holding placards intended to promote public violence.