Outrage and debate as Zimbabweans are sentenced to over 3 000 years in prison in South Africa


The recent long sentences of more than 3 000 years each imposed on two Zimbabweans, plus 168 years for a third one, for ripping off South African tax authorities of R300 million has ignited debate over prison terms no human being could ever serve.

The trio of Jeremiah Nyasha Musiwacho Dube (59), Mavudzi Maxwell Ndlovu (59), Edward Shoniwa (56) were among a syndicate of nine people who were recently sentenced to very long terms by South Africa’s Gauteng High Court in Pretoria for tax crimes.

Cheating on taxes has turned out to attract longer effective terms than murdering someone.

They were convicted on 391 counts of money laundering, fraud and forgery, plus a swathe of other offences such as benefiting from unlawful activities, the acquisition, possession or use of proceeds of unlawful activities, contravening the Birth and Death Registration Act, contravening the Identification Act, contravening the Attorneys Act, and contravening the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act.

The High Court did reset the effective sentences that must be served, through using concurrent sentencing so sentences for multiple charges can be served together and using suspensions but even these effective sentences will keep them in jail until they die, so for two of them they have effectively been given full life terms.

Dube was hit with 3 376 years’ imprisonment but will still serve 65 years. Ndlovu was sentenced to 3 272 years’ imprisonment but will also serve 65 years after the court considered mitigating circumstances while Shoniwa got 168 years, but will serve only 15 years in light of the mitigating circumstances.

A fourth Zimbabwean, Christopher Dube (56), absconded just before conviction and the court has issued a warrant of arrest against him.

The sentences ignited debate as some people strongly felt the breathtaking sentences were outrageous while some believed they were just symbolic.

However, it has been accepted in many jurisdictions the world over that incredibly long sentences serve as much to bring justice to the victims as they do justice to the criminal.

Harare lawyer Tamuka Muzondo said the sentences were just symbolic to ensure that they stay in prison for a long period before they are released.

“Not really. After they have served about 20 years or so they are eligible for parole,” he said. “The judge was just trying to pass a message by the sentence but they won’t be in for that long.”

USA-based social media enthusiast Mr James Mixon said that such a sentence is simply ensuring that the criminal person never gets out of prison.

“So, in short, I imagine states that offer parole to offenders with life would be more likely to hand out crazy, absurd thousand year sentences just to make it clear that this person is going nowhere and will die in prison,” wrote Mr Mixon on social media.

“For the most part though, it is just a symbolic way for the judge to let the public know, especially in high profile heinous cases, that this criminal will be locked up forever without a chance in hell of getting out.

“It is unrealistic to expect someone to actually serve more than 100 years, so therefore, simply symbolic.”

Speaking from Zhombe, social analyst, Mrs Petronella Sayi said such enormously long prison terms are often figurative and serve to demonstrate the seriousness of the crime committed.

“In real-world terms, it recognises that the criminal will unlikely be released again,” she said. “It also delivers a sense of justice and closure for the victims. However, it is significant to note that the actual span of time served may be determined by factors such as early release and other legal considerations.

Another social analyst Mr Andrew Nhubu said the reason why some criminals get ludicrous terms of imprisonment is to acknowledge the multiple crimes committed by the criminals in question.

He, however, said it was unsound to impose extremely long sentences of that nature when one cannot live that long.

“I am baffled at those kinds of sentences,” he said. “They defy logic. The court ought simply to have sentenced the criminals to life imprisonment.”

However, veteran lawyer, Mr Obert Gutu said it would appear that these various crimes were statutory offences that, ordinarily, would have clearly set out sentencing guidelines in terms of the particular crime one would have been convicted of.

“Put simply, the sentencing judge or magistrate would refer to the particular form of sentence specifically provided for by the statute in question,” he said.

“Invariably, statutes clearly state the nature and form of punishment that a person convicted of a particular statutory offence should get. Thus, it’s not uncommon to then end up having someone sentenced to several years of imprisonment for each and every statutory offence that they would have been convicted of.”

Mr Gutu said in most cases, the sentencing court would order that prison sentences should run concurrently.

“For example, if a person is convicted of twenty statutory offences each of which carries a prison term of ten years, you would be sentenced to go to prison for a total of two hundred years but then, the court would normally order that all the sentences should run concurrently.

“This means that the convicted person will effectively serve a total of ten years in prison instead of two hundred years in prison,” said the veteran lawyer.

In most cases long sentences of that magnitude are intended for consecutive terms that involve multiple victims and separate crimes. However, the crucial thing is that it helps to ensure that the accused person is actually going to spend life in prison. Most jurisdictions allow for parole but only after serving a minimum amount of the sentence.

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