Student faces death penalty for plotting a coup against Robert Mugabe

ZIMBABWEAN police have launched a manhunt for a University of Zimbabwe student who faces the death penalty for allegedly plotting a coup against long-time autocratic ruler President Robert Mugabe in 2007.

The student was previously released from prison when not tried within the required six months, but a judge has now said he is still a wanted man. 

Rangarirai Mazivofa (23), a second-year agriculture student, was arrested in May 2007 with six others for allegedly plotting to assassinate the ageing despot with the help of the country’s security forces, a charge that carries the death penalty in the African country. 

The student was released in July this year from Harare’s Chikurubi maximum security prison through a court order, on the grounds that the state had violated his rights by failing to try him within six months as stipulated by law. 

But his freedom was short lived. A High Court judge, Chinembiri Bhunu, issued another judgment on 4 October saying Mazivofa was still a wanted man. 

A medical report prepared on the orders of a magistrates court during Mazivofa’s incarceration confirmed he had been severely tortured. 

His other six co-accused in the coup operation, codenamed by police Operation 1940, are still in prison awaiting trial. 

They are Albert Matapo, Nyasha Zivuku, Oncemore Mudzurahona, Shingirai Mutemachani, Patson Mupfure and Emmanuel Marara. Matapo, a former army captain who is related to the university student, is accused of being the group’s ringleader. 

In a ruling in which Justice Bhunu said the six other men could not be released after Mazivofa gained his freedom, the judge also said the University of Zimbabwe student is in fact on the police wanted list for the same charge. But he added that efforts by law enforcement agents to locate him have so far drawn a blank. 

"It is common cause that the six accused persons were not tried within the prescribed six-month period, prompting Musakwa J’s [decision] on the 9th of July 2010 to dismiss their case and order their release from custody in terms of section 160(2) of the Act under case number HH142/10. 

"Their co-accused, one Rangarirai Mazivofa, who was not facing any other charges was unconditionally released. The accused person has since not been found and he remains at large," said Bhunu. 

According to a charge sheet, the University of Zimbabwe student’s crime was that he went to One Commando army barracks on 25 May last year and carried out reconnaissance of strategic points for purposes of executing the coup. 

The coup suspects are alleged to have planned to install Matapo as prime minister before inviting the country’s powerful defence minister, Emmerson Mnangagwa, to take up the position. He is also Mugabe’s chief election agent and the secretary for legal affairs in the ageing leader’s ZANU-PF party. 

But the coup suspects are denying the treason charges and contend they were arrested while planning the launch of a new political party in Zimbabwe. 

A member of the Zimbabwe National Students’ Union, speaking on condition of anonymity on Tuesday, said Mazivofa had not gone back to the university since his release. 

On Tuesday the student’s lawyer, Charles Warara, said the High Court judgment was wrong to rule Mazivofa was still a wanted man. The defence attorney added he could not immediately say whether his client had gone back to university to finish his studies. 

"That judgment is wrong because he was legally released. If the police want him to come to court they can serve him with summons. It is not his duty to look for the police," said Warara. 

Political analysts in Zimbabwe have dismissed the coup trial as part of the ruling Zanu-PF party’s factional fighting over who will succeed 86-year-old Mugabe. 

Mnangagwa, who has been linked to the case but was not arrested, controls one of the party’s two factions in the succession battle, with the other being led by Solomon Mujuru, a former army commander and husband of the country’s vice-president, Joice Mujuru.