News and Information

Fatal car crash delivers treason trial's latest jinx
January 25, 2005

THE curse that appears to be afflicting the Caprivi high treason trial in the High Court at Grootfontein has struck again, this time with fatal results.

Having already been jinxed with numerous delays and postponements over the five years and five months since the first arrests were made, the treason trial once again failed to get under way as planned when it returned to the High Court at Grootfontein after a three-month delay yesterday.

A fatal car accident saw to that.

It remains to be seen today, when the 120 men accused in the trial are scheduled to return to the dock before Judge Elton Hoff, whether the trial will proceed or may face yet another unplanned postponement.

Judge Hoff heard yesterday that the State had suffered a serious setback on Thursday afternoon last week, when a Police vehicle carrying three State witnesses and two Police officers on the way to Grootfontein overturned after one of its tyres burst, various sources indicated from Grootfontein yesterday.

The accident took place about 40 kilometres north of Okahandja, on the road to Otjiwarongo.

The accident claimed the life of Samuel Mafwafwa, who was set to be the prosecution's fourth witness in the trial.

It also left the third State witness in the trial, who was set to start with his testimony yesterday, seriously injured.

That is the witness whose identity may, by an order of Judge Hoff, not be revealed in the media because of fears of intimidation and recrimination that the witness had expressed when he was first called to the witness stand early in October last year.

Also seriously injured in the accident was Sergeant Eimo Popyeinawa, a member of the Police team investigating the case.

He has intimate knowledge of the matter, having been involved in the investigation since the very first days after alleged separatists accused of aiming to overthrow the government in the Caprivi Region staged a number of armed attacks on Government-related targets at Katima Mulilo on August 2 1999.

The second prosecution witness to have testified in the trial, Oscar Mwisepi, was also involved in the accident.

He suffered less serious injuries.

The difficulty in which the accident left the treason trial prosecution is this: that its intended next witness is incapacitated, and that the witness statements of the next two persons that the State has available to give evidence were disclosed to the defence lawyers only yesterday.

This may be in breach of an agreement between the State and the defence that witness statements would be provided to the defence lawyers at least three days before the start of the witness's testimony so that defence lawyers could properly prepare themselves before a new witness starts giving evidence.

Yesterday's proceedings before Judge Hoff were devoted not only to informing Judge Hoff of Thursday's accident and its impact on the prosecution's case, but also to a request from defence counsel Christopher Dube, who has taken over the legal representation of ten of the 120 accused after their previous lawyer withdrew.

Dube asked the Judge to have Mwisepi recalled to the witness stand for further cross-examination, and also indicated that he would need about a month's time to further prepare himself properly for the continuation of the trial.

Judge Hoff indicated that he would give a ruling on Dube's application on February 2.

As for today, the State plans to call its next witness to the stand this morning, Deputy Prosecutor-General Herman January indicated yesterday.

At that point it would depend on the defence whether they would want to ask the Judge for more time to consult their clients and to prepare for the new witness's testimony, or not.


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