There has been non-compliance with court order' - Muchehiwa lawyer Nqobani Sithole Impala Car Rental has frustrated efforts by lawyers for torture victim Tawanda Muchehiwa to recover vital information which would lead to the identification of state security agents who abducted him.
The Bulawayo High Court ordered Impala to turn over to the lawyers personal details of the individual who hired out the Ford Ranger vehicle which was used in the abduction of the journalism student and nephew of ZimLive editor Mduduzi Mathuthu on July 30, the eve of planned anti-government protests.
Impala was also required, under the order, to hand over the route map of where the vehicle went and distance travelled between July 26 and August 6.
The Sheriff of Zimbabwe executed the order on September 11.
He wrote back to lawyer Nqobani Sithole: “Respondent’s offices were attended and we spoke to Impala’s general manager Viola Chirata who said they do not have any documentation relating to the hiring of Ford Ranger AES 2433 since all the documents have been surrendered to Braeside Police Station.”
Separately, Impala’s lawyers Mudimu Law Chambers wrote to the Sheriff stating that “the file was seized by police” and “the motor vehicle which you inspected has no tracker.”
Legal expert Alex Magaisa said it was not “incredible” that Impala Car Rental handed over documents to the police and did not retain copies.
Impala owner Thompson Dondo previously told ZimLive that all their vehicles are fitted with trackers to guard against theft. He also claimed they had capacity to remotely disable the vehicles.
Muchehiwa, 22, was seized outside a hardware shop just after midday and driven out of Bulawayo. He was tortured over three days before being dumped back in Bulawayo after the High Court gave police a 72-hour deadline to present him before a judge.
His captors accused the Midlands State University student of planning protests to oust President Emmerson Mnangagwa. Simultaneously, people claiming to be police officers raided Mathuthu’s home saying they were looking for “subversive materials”, but the journalist was gone.
Muchehiwa’s lawyer Nqobani Sithole, instructed by the Media Institute for Southern Africa (MISA), said the latest setback would not prevent them from seeking a private investigation and prosecution of the abductors, some of whom have been named online.
Sithole also accused the Sheriff of incompetently executing the High Court order.
“They did not comply,” he told ZimLive. “The provisional order is clear about what is expected of the Sheriff, and what he was supposed to go and do.
“Unfortunately, they he went there and negotiated, contrary to a clear directive to go and seize certain pieces of evidence. There has been non-compliance with court order by the Sheriff from where I stand. Of course we never expected Impala to assist us; they are part of the cover up.”
ZimLives investigation of Muchehiwa’s abduction led to the vehicle’s owner, a resident of Ruwa, who said he gave Impala his vehicle for onward leasing out.
He said he was “horrified” that his vehicle had been used in an abduction.
The ownership of Impala Car Rental has come under scrutiny, amid claims that it may be owned by the Central Intelligence Organisation’s commercial division with Dondo being a mere front.
We have also obtained information showing that top government officials, and their spouses, are also providing their vehicles to Impala which leases them to government departments, sometimes for months on end, earning them huge profits.
The Zimbabwe National Students Union last week staged a protest outside Impala Car Rental, demanding that the company comes clean on its role in Muchehiwa’s abduction.
ZINASU leader Takudzwa Ngadziore was subsequently arrested, accused of participating in an illegal demonstration. Nine students were arrested when they staged a protest outside a Harare court where Ngadziore was freed on bail.
One of Ngadziore’s bail conditions was that he should not go within 100 meters of Impala.
On Friday, Ngadziore held a news conference – he said he was 101 meters from the company – but armed men wearing plain clothes arrived in three vehicles and disrupted the news conference. They severely beat up Ngadziore and also attacked journalists.
The men, believed to be state security agents, then handed Ngadziore over to the uniformed police who had stood akimbo during the attack on the students and journalists.
Ngadziore was subsequently arrested and driven to Harare Central Police Station, although the charges he faced were unclear.
Journalism unions condemned the raid. Several news organisations reported that their equipment was damaged or stolen.