A fresh bid for freedom by jailed RMG Independent End Time Message church leader Robert Martin Gumbura yesterday hit a brick wall after a Harare magistrate said he did not have the jurisdiction to entertain his bail application pending appeal. Gumbura, who was jailed for an effective 40 years after he was found guilty on four counts of rape and one of possessing pornographic material, had approached the magistrates' court seeking bail pending determination of his appeal against conviction and sentence at the High Court.
However, regional magistrate Mr Hoseah Mujaya dismissed the application for want of jurisdiction.
He said as a magistrate, he did not have jurisdiction to entertain bail issues on third schedule offences.
According to the law, once the State is opposing bail, the magistrates' court has no jurisdiction for third schedule offences such as rape. So Gumbura is still at liberty to approach the High Court if he so wishes.
In his application for bail Gumbura, through his lawyer, Ms Rekai Maposa, argued that he was not a flight risk considering that he did not abscond court proceedings before his conviction.
Ms Maposa said that his client co-operated with the investigating officer during the investigations.
"The fact that he has been convicted and sentenced does not mean or imply that he will abscond. The court can minimise the chances of abscondment by imposing restrictive conditions," she said.
She added: "Applicant concedes that the offence he was convicted of and sentenced is serious, but it is argued that the seriousness of an offence is not enough reason to deny him bail. In light of all these observations, the appeal court will quash the conviction and set it aside and replace the verdict that the accused is found not guilty and acquitted."
In his response to the application, Harare area public prosecutor Mr Jonathan Murombedzi said Gumbura was likely to escape if granted bail.
He argued that the fact that Gumbura is yet to stand trial on another offence is sufficient inducement for him to abscond.
"In view of the lengthy custodial sentence that was imposed coupled with the fact that he is yet to stand another trial, will cause him to abscond once he is released.
"He has churches outside the country, in South Africa and United Kingdom, hence it is easy for him to escape and settle there since he has the means," he said.
Mr Murombedzi said that no appeal court was likely to tamper with Gumbura's sentence since it was rather on the lenient side.
Gumbura, who has 11 wives and 30 children, was facing nine counts of raping six women and one of possessing pornographic material.
Mr Mujaya cleared him of four counts relating to three other women because of lack of evidence.
Meanwhile, the High Court has stopped proceedings in the trial of three of Gumbura's wives and their alleged five accomplices accused of photographing themselves in the nude.
Justice Priscilla Chigumba granted a stay of proceedings in the matter pending a review of proceedings which she said were marred by procedural irregularities.
This follows a urgent chamber application by the State led by Mr Michael Reza of a review of the court proceedings after provincial magistrate Mr Douglas Chikwekwe ruled that he would not allow the warned-and-cautioned statements to be produced in court because they were not credible.
Mr Reza argued that Mr Chikwekwe ordered a trial within a trial for a matter that didn't require that.
He added that the magistrate went halfway with the trial within a trial before making his ruling.
On February 12, this year the trial reached fever pitch after the magistrate and prosecutor locked horns over a court ruling annulling police statements.
Mr Chikwekwe ruled that Detective Constable Tariro Rangwani was not a reliable witness.
"From the onset, the person who claims to be the investigating officer (Det Cst Tariro Rangwani) monitored proceedings. Her conduct was unethical and unorthodox for a police officer.
"She recorded her own statements after listening to the defence of the accused and the evidence of Detective Sengwe, that is doing investigative prosecution," he said.
Although the matter proceeded to the main trial, Mr Reza and defence counsel Ms Rekai Maposa, squared off after the former attempted to produce evidence through the disputed investigating officer.
Mr Chikwekwe upheld Ms Maposa's objection and told the State that he could produce his evidence through Det Cst Memory Zvenyika, whom the court believed was the investigating officer.
Mr Reza would not have any of that and communicated his intention to apply for a review of the proceedings.
Choice Neganje (32), Amadeus Mutakwa (32), Rutendo Sekai Mandiya (28), Pamera Kandawire (27), Runyararo Musvovi (27), Veronica Mbanga (27), Tendai Kwatara (34) and Moreblessing Takawira (35) are facing charges of contravening the Censorship and Entertainment Control Act.
The women disowned statements recorded by the police, the contents of the statements, the signatures, the police officer who recorded the statement and the lawyer, Mr Emmanuel Samundombe, who was alleged to be present.
The matter was remanded to March 28 pending review by the High Court.