Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) chairperson Priscilla Chigumba is expected to appear in court to testify against a former Midlands State University student, Night Tawona Shadaya who is accused of retweeting a derogatory message against her.
The trial, which was supposed to commence on Monday was postponed to November 20 after the State, indicated that they failed to serve Chigumba.
Initially, Shadaya pleaded guilty to criminal insult when he appeared before Harare magistrate Rumbidzai Mugwagwa. While awaiting sentencing, Noble Chinhanu of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) took over his legal representation and advised the court that he would be changing his plea.
Chinhanu successfully applied for change of plea from guilty to not guilty, arguing that his client “wrongly” and “mistakenly” pleaded guilty to the offence having an incorrect understanding of the essential elements of the charges he is facing. Chinhanu also argued that Shadaya genuinely believed that the account belonged to Chigumba at the time of retweeting and therefore did not impair her reputation.
However, the State had opposed the application arguing that all essential elements were explained.
Prosecutor Fransisca Mukumbiri argued that ignorance of the law is not an excuse and cannot be used as an excuse to change the plea. However, Mugwagwa ruled in favour of Shadaya after noting that the matter was not initially handled well.
Mugwagwa said there was possibility that Shadaya thought that the Twitter account belonged Chigumba and that the essential elements were not canvassed.
“It is fundamental that the trial must commence,” Mugwagwa ruled.
The fake tweet which was circulated by Shadaya purported to be from Chigumba’s account read: “I can’t wait for the election fiasco to come to an end. I could do with a holiday and some good sex. My body needs a break.”
Shadaya, popular for creating social media memes, was arrested following a report to the police by Chigumba who said she did not own the Twitter account.