Longer wait for verdict in Caprivi treason trial

DECADES IN PRISON … The eight men charged in the second Caprivi treason trial have all been in jail for more than 20 years following their arrests. The accused are (back row, from left) Frederick Ntambilwa, Diamond Salufu (in wheelchair), John Tembwe, Manuel Makendano, Alex Mushakwa and Progress Munuma, and (front) Shine Samulandela and Hoster Ntombo. Photo: Werner Menges

Eight men accused of involvement in an attempt to overthrow the government in the Zambezi region and secede the region from Namibia will have to wait another three and a half months for the verdict in their long-running trial in the Windhoek High Court.

The verdict in the eight men’s trial was scheduled to be delivered by acting judge Petrus Unengu yesterday, but was instead postponed to 29 July, as Unengu has not yet completed his judgement.

The eight accused are standing trial for a second time on allegations that they had been involved from September 1998 to December 2003 in a plot to overthrow the Namibian government in the then Caprivi region – now the Zambezi region – and to secede the region from Namibia.

The eight men and four co-accused went through a first trial in the High Court between 2005 and 2007.

That trial ended in August 2007 with 10 of them being convicted of high treason and sentenced to prison terms of either 30 or 32 years each.

The Supreme Court set aside their convictions and sent their case back to the High Court for a retrial in July 2013, after finding that the judge who presided over their first trial should have recused himself from the matter when he was asked to do so, following his dismissal of a jurisdiction challenge raised by the accused.

The men’s retrial started before Unengu at the end of June 2014, with the jurisdiction of the court again challenged based on allegations that the accused had been abducted from Botswana and unlawfully brought under the jurisdiction of the High Court of Namibia.

The jurisdiction challenge was later dismissed by Unengu.

Five of the accused – Progress Munuma, Shine Samulandela, Manuel Makendano, Alex Mushakwa and John Tembwe – were arrested and charged in Namibia on 12 December 2003, after they had been deported from Botswana.

By then, another of the accused, Frederick Ntambilwa, had already been in custody in Namibia for a year and five months, having been arrested in July 2002.

Two of the accused – John Tembwe and Hoster Ntombo – were arrested in September 2002, after they too had been deported from Botswana to Namibia.

The eight accused are facing charges of high treason, sedition, public violence, unauthorised importation, supply or possession of weaponry, illegal possession of ammunition, and four counts of contravening immigration legislation.

The prosecution’s case in the trial was concluded at the end of September 2020, after more than 40 state witnesses’ testimony had been heard by the court.

After Unengu dismissed an application for the accused to be discharged in March 2021, the accused testified in their own defence.

This was followed by the hearing of closing arguments from deputy prosecutor general Lourens Campher, who represented the state, and defence lawyers Ilse Agenbach and Jorge Neves in November last year.

In his oral address, Campher argued all eight accused should be convicted, but conceded that if they are found guilty of high treason the counts of sedition and public violence could be a duplication of the charge of treason.

Agenbach, who is representing Munuma, Samulandela, Makendano, Mushakwa, Salufu and Ntombo, argued that her clients were not citizens of Namibia when the alleged offences were committed and thereafter, but were “legitimate members of the native nation of the Eastern Caprivi”, separate from Namibia.

Since they are not Namibian nationals, they do not owe allegiance to the Republic of Namibia and cannot be convicted of treason committed against the state of Namibia, she argued.

Neves, representing Ntambilwa and Tembwe, described the state’s evidence as “inconclusive and of a poor quality” and asked the judge to acquit the accused on all charges.

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