Stock theft; has justice left the courts?

Two Ndebele brothers worked as cattlemen for a white family at Muddy Waters Farm in the vast rolling farmlands of Somabhula. The Ndebele brothers also owned cattle in their own right, mostly donated to them by their white employer, which they kept together with the employer’s herd.
Truckloads of cattle were stolen from Muddy Waters Farm, some belonging to the Ndebele brothers, others to the white employer.
A top government official was arrested for the theft and he stood trial at the local Court.
Allegations against the top Government official were that he hired and connived with two notorious cattle rustlers to steal the complainants’ cattle and sold them to a local businessman who ferried them to the city abbattoir for slaughter using his truck.
The top Government official hired a cunning lawyer to represent him at the trial, and the prosecution assigned an aggressive law graduate who was gifted in the English language to handle the matter.
It was a fight to the death.
The courtroom was full, and tense.
The prosecution case limped and faced hiccups early, with one of its witnesses refusing to cooperate. The aggressive graduate who spoke great English moved that the witness be declared hostile by the Court, and successfully had him impeached.
It was an own goal. In terms of evidence of the commission of the crime, the prosecution was left with nothing after the evidence of the recalcitrant witness had been expunged from the record by the Court, at the prosecution’s own instance.
But the aggressive graduate and great English speaker who appeared for the prosecution plodded on, limping case and all.
He led evidence from the two Ndebele brothers, one after the other, who described how they had seen some of the missing cattle close to their compound at Muddy Waters Farm in the evening prior to the theft, but had found them missing from the rest of the herd the following morning.
They told the Court that as they searched for the missing animals within Muddy Waters Farm, they discovered a makeshift loading rump from which clearly visible tyre marks snaked to the main road. They told the Court that this made them conclude that the missing cattle must have been loaded and ferried away in a truck in the dark of night.
They testified on how they alerted their employer about their discovery, who in turn contacted the police. The police advised them to drive into Gweru with someone who could identify the stolen cattle, as the police wanted someone to be present at the Cattle Sale pens and at the City abbattoir to check whether the cattle had been brought to the sale or the slaughter that was scheduled to take place on that very day.
The two Ndebele brothers explained to the Court how their employer took them first to the police station where they made a formal report, and thereafter to the cattle pens to observe the cattle sale and the cattle slaughter. But theirs and their employer’s cattle cattle were not brought to the cattle sale pens on that day, neither were they brought to the slaughter pens. The police advised them not to despair and told them that they should attend the cattle sales which used to take place in Gweru on Thursday every week, as it was the most likely disposal point of the stolen cattle.
It was the story of the Ndebele brothers to the Court that they searched far and wide for the stolen cattle, on horseback, on foot and in their employer’s truck, but there was no trace of the stolen cattle. They attended at the Gweru cattle sales pens every Thursday three weeks in a row, there was still no trace of the stolen cattle. They checked with the police every other day, but there was still no trace of the stolen cattle.
Bereft of all hope of recovering the stolen cattle, the Ndebele brothers nonetheless attended at the Gweru cattle sales pens on the fifth week of the theft, and lo and behold, theirs and their employer’s cattle were being offloaded from a truck belonging to a local businessman.
They narrated to the Court how they alerted the police and thus recovered part of theirs and their employer’s stolen herd, and in the process discovered that the larger part of the stolen herd had already been slaughtered by the local businessman and the meat sold in his butcheries and supermarkets.
That is all they knew about the case.
The cunning lawyer who represented the top Government official rose and asked them the same question in turn, had they seen the top Government official steal theirs and their employer’s cattle? They answered that they had not.
The cunning lawyer who represented the top Government official thanked them and gracefully returned to his seat, smiling smugly all the time.
Touching and truthful as it was, the evidence of the two Ndebele brothers did not in any way link the top Government official to the commission of the offence.
But the prosecutor who spoke great English plodded on. He put a police officer on the witness stand who told the Court that he assisted in the investigation of the case. He testified that it was a requirement of the law that any stock which moved from one point to onether required an animal movement permit which was issued by the Veterinary Department.
He narrated how he was assigned to check from the records of the Veterinary Department whether any animal movement permits had been issued by the Department for the movement of cattle from Muddy Waters Farm to any destination during the period of the theft. He explained that if permits had been issued, they would hopefully assist the police identify the culprit because the permit shows on the face thereof the identity of the person who would have applied for permission to move the cattle from point A to point B.
He narrated that from the Veterinary Department’s records, he discovered that indeed three permits had been issued for the movement of a total of 36 beasts from Muddy Waters Farm to Gweru cattle pens on three separate occasions, with each permit authorising the movement of 12 animals per trip.
It was the evidence of the police officer that the permits were issued in favor of a local businessman.
It was his testimony that all three permits were issued by the top Government official who was seated right there in the dock.
The Prosecutor who spoke great English applied that the animal movement permits be admitted into evidence by the Court, and the request was granted
There was a murmur of excitement from the packed audience.
Upon being probed by the prosecutor who spoke great English, the police officer told the Court that the police then investigated the local businessman and cleared him after he explained that it is his staff who purchase stock for slaughter for his businesses, and it is his staff who did all the logistics of paying the supplier and transporting the stock to his business. Because he is the owner of the business, his staff apply for animal movement permits under his name.
The police officer then concluded his testimony by telling the Court that other police officers then followed up on the leads that had been given to the police by the local businessman and his staff.
The cunning lawyer who represented the top Government official rose majestically and asked the police officer two questions.
He asked the police officer whether he knew that the top Government official was authorised, by virtue of his position, to issue animal movement permits? The police officer accepted that the top Government official had the requisite authority to do so.
The cunning lawyer who represented the top Government official then inquired from the police officer whether any offence had been committed by the top Government official in doing what he was authorised to do, and the police officer admitted;
“in that, there’s no
offence.”
And with that, the cunning lawyer who represented the top Government official gracefully returned to his seat.
It was an anticlimax.
But the prosecutor who spoke great English plodded on, limping case and all. He called the driver of the local businessman who testified that he is the one who, on three separate occasions, transported cattle from Muddy Waters Farm to Gweru during the course and scope of his employment with the local businessman.
The local businessman’s driver narrated that he was approached by a man who told him that he had twelve beasts ready for collection in the Somabhula area if they agreed on a price. The man was offering a very attractive price per kilogram for the live weight of the animals, and the driver agreed to take a look.
On the agreed date, the driver said the man brought an animal movement permit for 12 live beasts and off they went to Muddy Waters Farm after sunset where they found 12 fat cattle confined in a makeshift loading rump. Another man was guarding the cattle. They loaded the cattle and transported them to Gweru for slaughter, and the driver said he made arrangements that the man be paid his dues.
According to the evidence of the driver, two more trips were undertaken, and a total of 36 beasts were transported from Muddy Waters Farm for slaughter, but the last load was not slaughtered, as it was intercepted by the police.
The driver then told the Court that he gave the police the details of the man who supplied him with the cattle, which details he got from the stock register which is kept at his workplace.
The driver concluded his testimony by telling the Court that he didn’t know what happened to the man who supplied him with the cattle after he gave the police the information he had about him.
The cunning lawyer who represented the top Government official rose and asked the driver whether it was the top Government official who had supplied him with the cattle, and the driver answered;
“No, he is not the one.”
And the cunning lawyer who represented the top Government official returned to his seat, looking bored, showing everyone present that this whole exercise was a useless waste of time.
Even the Magistrate who was presiding over the matter was now showing signs of fatigue.
The Magistrate looked sternly at the Prosecutor who spoke great English and asked;
“Do you still have
onether witness Mr
Prosecutor?
The Prosecutor who spoke great English responded with a level voice;
“I have one last witness
your Worship”
A man who was dressed in prison garb was escorted into the Courtroom by two prison officers. He took the witness stand and took oath and swore to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Upon being asked by the Prosecutor who spoke great English, the man admitted that he was serving a prison term for the theft of 36 herd of cattle from Muddy Waters Farm.
The Prosecutor who spoke great English plodded on, probing the witness, and the witness opened up;
The witness admitted that he was serving the sentence with another man with whom he had committed the offence.
Yes, the other man with whom he committed the offence was the first witness who had refused to cooperate with the Prosecution.
Yes, he had been transferred to Chivhu prison after the top Government official had sent an emissary to persuade him to change his testimony and protect the top Government official.
Yes, the Prosecution had arranged his transfer to Chivhu prison to prevent the top Government official from getting to him.
No, he had refused to lie to the Court in order to protect the top Government official.
Yes, his collegue with whom he had committed the offence agreed to protect the top Government official. No, he didn’t know whether his collegue had been paid for changing his testimony to protect the top Government official.
Yes, he could tell his story from the beginning.
He and his collegue were recruited by the top Government official to steal cattle from Muddy Waters Farm. They went to Muddy Waters Farm in the top Government official’s Land Rover for reconnaissance. They agreed on where to construct the loading rump and from which paddocks to steal the cattle. The top Government official provided the food, the equipment, the money and the cattle movement permits. It is his collegue who went to collect the local businessman’s truck which they used to ferry the cattle, he remained behind guarding the cattle which they had rounded up at the loading rump.
Yes, he was paid by the top Government official for his role in the theft.
No, he had no reason to falsely incriminate the top Government official, he just wanted to see justice done.
The Prosecutor who spoke great English nodded knowingly at the cunning lawyer who represented the top Government official, told the Court that he had no further questions for the witness, and sat down. Very calmly.
The cunning lawyer who represented the top Government official tried, but failed to discredit the witness, who stuck to his story.
The cunning lawyer who represented the top Government official also tried, in his closing address, to persuade the Magistrate to acquit his client, but failed.
Upon the prompting of the plodding Prosecutor who spoke great English, the Magistrate convicted the top Government official and imposed a lengthy custodial sentence, together with a compensation order in favour of the tenacious two Ndebele brothers and their generous employer.
There was a roar of applause from the audience who were present in the Courtroom when the Magistrate pronounced the verdict and the sentence.
It was an applause to justice, an applause now absent from the corridors of Zimbabwean courtrooms.

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