The wives of jailed Independent End Time Message leader Robert Martin Gumbura who is serving a 40-year jail term have stopped coming to court to show solidarity with their embattled husband.
Gumbura was convicted in 2014 of four counts of rape.
Last week Friday, he was back in court on allegations of attempting to escape from lawful custody and incitement in aggravating circumstances following a foiled prison break in 2015.
He is jointly charged with Blessing Chiduke, 25; Luckmore Matambanadzo, 39; Luck Mhungu, 38; Taurai Dodzo, 47; Thomas Chacha, 37; Thulani Chizema, 32; Jacob Sibanda, 28; and Elijah Vhumbunu, 38.
When Gumbura appeared before Harare magistrate Francis Mapfumo to answer to the new charge none of his 11 wives were in attendance.
In the past, the wives — who are of different shapes and sizes — were quite a spectacle at the courts.
Apart from giving some useful insights into the life that Gumbura led before his incarceration, especially his love for women in their diversity, their oneness in the face of adversity gave different perspectives to the thorny issue of polygamy, religion and feminism.
In the courtroom, they would occupy more than three benches and take turns to greet their husband by waving and smiling at him.
The jailed cleric would appear in court clad in prison gear and as he sat in the dock he would smile back as if to assure his wives that the good times would roll back one day.
After court proceedings, all the 11 wives would feed journalists’ curiosity by posing for group pictures just outside the court — a rare insight for those who are familiar with polygamous relationships.
It therefore came as a huge surprise when Gumbura’s wives did not show up at the courts last week.
Their absence has fed the rumour mill with speculation — but for now it remains nothing but speculation.
Doomsayers suspect the jailed cleric might have been deserted by his wives.
Their minds race back to September this year when Gumbura was quoted saying he has come to terms with the fact that he may not leave prison anytime soon and has thus asked his wives not to wait for him but remarry.
Yet others say Gumbura’s family decided that his wives only pay him regular visits at Chikurubi Maximum Prison to avoid creating unnecessary publicity at the courts, which could work against his efforts to fight for his freedom.
The Daily News on Sunday was unable to reach any of Gumbura’s wives or relatives to find out the reasons behind their absence at the courts.
Gumbura will be back in court on January 14 for continuation of trial and it will be interesting to see if his 11 wives would be at the magistrate’s court to give him moral support.
But whether they decide to cheer him up or not, it was clear from the security around Gumbura when he appeared at the courts last Friday that the polygamist is still perceived to be a dangerous criminal.
Following his foiled jail break, Gumbura and his accomplices are being accompanied to the court by a police escort.
Some of the police officers sit inside the court on guard. More than nine prison officers also stood guard on Friday last week, occupying the bench behind the area where the accused persons sat.
Because the accused persons cannot all fit in the dock, some occupied one front bench.
After court adjourned and as they engaged their legal counsel, prison officers and the police encircled Gumbura and his co-accused to ensure they do not flee.
Outside the court, more armed prison officers also stood guard.
Gumbura and his co-accused have enlisted the services of constitutional lawyer Lovemore Madhuku following delays in their trial.
The case has been before a trial court for more than three years.
Initially, Gumbura was represented by Tapson Dzvetero while the rest of his alleged culprits were not legally represented.
A total of 23 witnesses have been lined up by the State to give evidence in the matter but so far only four witnesses have testified.
Some of the witnesses that the State is relying on include John Mutizwa who is serving 16 years for vehicle theft and Davison Mutakaya who has since finished serving his jail term.
The prison officers who testified in court on Friday last week exonerated Gumbura of any wrongdoing as they failed to link him directly to the crime.
Augustine Matare, a prison officer, said he was not sure of the role the accused persons played in the foiled prison break.
“I only saw one prisoner at the roof of the prison. This prisoner has since passed away,” Matare told the court.