Obert Mpofu, the Transport minister, has escaped a jail term after the High Court set aside a civil imprisonment ruling, following allegations that he defied a court order.

Court proceedings arose from the time Mpofu was the minister of Mines and Mining Development.

The litigation was instituted against Mpofu and the former mining commissioner for Harare Eunice Kahonde.

He was taken to court by Chiroswa Minerals (Private) Limited and Base Minerals (Private) Limited, claiming the minister had defied a court order, passed in November 2011.

According to court papers, Mpofu failed to act after Justice Bharat Patel gave an order for the approval and registration of a tribute agreement for the two companies in accordance with the Mines and Minerals Act.

In January last year, High Court judge Maxwell Takuva gave an order authorising Mpofu and Kahonde's commitment to prison for 30 days for failure to comply with Patel's ruling.

However, High Court judge Chinembiri Bhunu reversed the ruling on Thursday.

"Every person has a right to personal liberty, which includes the right not to be detained without trial and not to be deprived of their liberty arbitrarily or without just cause," Bhunu said.

"No person may be imprisoned merely on the ground of inability to fulfil a contractual obligation."

In his judgment Bhunu said the mining commissioner was within her rights when she declined to register the tribute agreement, seeking the two companies to first comply with the Mines and Minerals Act.

He said Takuva's ruling for civil imprisonment appears to have been issued in error, based on papers filed in chambers, in the absence of the other party.

Bhunu further said that the court rules provided for correction of such orders.

Bhunu said Mpofu had complied with Patel's ruling by referring the tribute agreement to the mining commissioner.

"Whether or not the mining commissioner was going to grant the registration of the agreement had nothing to do with him," Bhunu said.




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