News and Information

Treason trial stalled until January 2005
October 27, 2004


THE Caprivi treason case curse struck again in the High Court at Grootfontein yesterday.

The curse of the delays and postponements that have marked the high treason case over the past five years returned to haunt the case for the umpteenth time, when Judge Elton Hoff had to postpone the trial of the 120 suspects to December 1.

That is in order to give the Director of Legal Aid enough time to find a replacement for defence counsel Henry Chanda, who withdrew as legal representative of nine of the 120 last week.

Not much is expected to happen when the case returns to court - this time in Windhoek - on December 1.

That date was chosen only so that Chanda's replacement could place him- or herself on record and could inform the court whether he or she would be ready to proceed with the trial when it is scheduled to continue from January 24 next year.

This latest postponement may only add weight to words used by then Chief Justice Johan Strydom in June 2002 in the Supreme Court judgement in which Government was ordered to provide the treason suspects with legal representation for their trial.

He stated then that the Caprivi high treason case "has all the makings of a logistical and organisational nightmare for both the prosecution and the defence and will no doubt run for a couple of years rather than months".

His words are increasingly appearing to have been prophetic.

Yesterday, Legal Aid Director Vero Mbahuurua told Judge Hoff that he could not simply rush into appointing a replacement to take over from Chanda.

A suitable lawyer to take over the defence, and who would be good for the defence, would have to be found first, "either within or outside Namibia".

The constraints of the Legal Aid Directorate's budget would also have to be taken into account, Mbahuurua explained.

The replacement would also have to be given time to prepare for the continuation of the trial, such as by studying the record of trial proceedings so far.

That record is now approaching the 1 900-page mark.

Mbahuurua said for these reasons he regarded the time he was requesting until December 1 as a reasonable period to enable him to scout for and appoint a new counsel for the currently unrepresented nine.

Chanda, who continues to represent one accused person at this stage, supported him on that score.

As is his custom, Chanda again threw some Latin into the mix to bolster the point he was trying to make.

While telling the Judge that Mbahuurua had sufficiently explained why he wanted the case to be postponed to December 1, Chanda added:"Nemo dat quod non habet."

As far as most of the people in court were concerned, he may as well have been speaking Greek, but Chanda quickly explained:That means that the Director cannot give something that he hasn't got.

With yesterday's postponement, however, he now has five weeks to find something - or someone - to give, before the trial can proceed.

In the meantime, most of the 120 accused face the prospect of spending their sixth consecutive Christmas season in custody - still as trial-awaiting, and not sentenced, prisoners.

They also appear to face the prospect of a further extended period in custody while their trial proceeds at snail's pace.

The trial on the merits of the State's case against the 120 has now, since August 23, been in process for 26 days of actual court proceedings.

However, only on 14 of those days has the court actually heard testimony on the merits of the prosecution's case.

In that time, the evidence of two State witnesses was finalised.

The prosecution claims to have hundreds more witnesses that it may want to call to the witness stand.

Today it will have been three weeks since Judge Hoff heard the last testimony on the merits of the State's case.

Since then, the trial has stalled, first with the hearing of an application to prevent the media from revealing the name of the third prosecution witness in reports on his testimony, and in the past week due to Chanda's withdrawal as defence counsel of nine of his 10 clients.

Today it has also been a year since the first stage of the treason trial started in the High Court at Grootfontein, with a hearing on the question whether the court had jurisdiction over 13 of the suspects, who claimed to have been abducted from Zambia or Botswana to Namibia to be charged and put on trial.

The hearing of that jurisdiction challenge kept the court busy for 24 days of court proceedings, until early in March.

The case then went through a five-month delay, while the jurisdiction challenge was taken on appeal to the Supreme Court, which set aside the High Court's ruling in favour of the 13 on the jurisdictional point.


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