KAHENGE: The trial of 25 people accused of grazing their cattle illegally in the Kavango Region could not go ahead on Tuesday after Magistrate Victor Nyazo recused himself from the case.
The trial was set to continue from Tuesday until Thursday in the Kahenge District Court, but the accused persons objected to the trial continuing as they apparently received information which they believed could jeopardise the integrity of the court proceedings if Nyazo was allowed to continue presiding over the case.
The accused in their notice of application for Magistrate Nyazo to recuse himself said they were in possession of information that Nyazo had been involved in a meeting with Ukwangali leader Chief Sitentu Mpasi, who opened the case against the group in 2006.
They stated that on 25 June 2012, the Magistrate, State Prosecutor Clara Mwilima and a certain court interpreter known only as ‘Kandjimi’ attended a meeting with the complainant, Chief Mpasi, at his palace.
The purpose of the meeting was apparently to convince Mpasi to attend and testify at a hearing which took place on 26 June this year.
Mpasi did attend the hearing and testified – although reluctantly. The chief threatened to leave the courtroom several times whilst still under oath as he said he was being insulted.
“We informed our legal practitioner of that information as we were concerned that the presiding officer is not and will not be impartial…” said Johannes Ndiwakalunga, one of the accused persons, in a letter.
Meanwhile, the accused parties’ Defense Counsel Norman Tjombe confirmed to Nampa after the court session that he wrote a letter to Magistrate Nyazo asking him to recuse himself from the trial.
Nyazo on Tuesday postponed the case to 11 to 14 November this year for continuation of the trial.
During their earlier appearance on 25 June 2012, 25 of the 29 people accused of grazing their cattle illegally in the Ukwangali Traditional Authority area pleaded not guilty to the charges against them.
The group of farmers from the Ohangwena and Oshikoto Regions had allegedly been grazing their cattle on Ukwangali land in western Kavango since 1992 without proper authorisation from Chief Mpasi.
The chief opened a case against the group in 2006, and the accused farmers made their first court appearance on 03 December 2006.
Prosecutor-General Martha Imalwa in early June this year declined to prosecute seven other accused persons because they are of Ukwangali origin, making them eligible to utilise the land. They are Erastus Sakaria, Emilia Nghilundilwa, Metumo Nghilundilwa, Eli Shinwalulu, Aktoffel Sakaria, Seth Kaukungwa, and Juniors Hamana.
One of the accused, Petrus Mutilifa, has passed away since the start of the trial.
The first State witness who took the stand on 25 June was Police Detective Warrant Officer Thomas Kautondokwa, who said he and seven other police officers were on 27 April 2006 instructed by Namibian Police Force (NamPol) Inspector-General, Lieutenant Sebastian Ndeitunga to investigate a case of illegal grazing lodged by Mpasi.
He said they visited the villages of Sazi, Okolo and Ongali, where they found cattle kraals, traditional hut structures and mahangu fields which allegedly belonged to Oshiwambo-speaking people who were also the cattle owners.
Kautondokwa explained that the owners of the structures, who he took sworn statements from, said they settled there legally and were paying annual fees to the Ukwangali Traditional Authority.
Tjombe however denied this, telling the investigating officer during cross examination that the accused never grazed their cattle illegally in the Ukwangali area.
He stated that his clients have been prosecuted for six years based on sworn statements, and said the investigating officer failed to observe branding on the cattle in order to investigate the illegal grazing.
Tjombe further revealed that his clients have documents stating that Mpasi and then Ukwangali Chief Council member, Rudolph Ngondo granted land to the Ovambo cattle owners to let their cattle graze in the Ukwangali Traditional Authority area.
“The Chief of the Ukwangali Traditional Authority granted land to the size of 60 kilometres (km) by 100 km to enable them to graze their cattle,” he stated.
Mpasi has however denied giving land for grazing to the illegal grazers during the start of the trial on 26 June 2012.