TWO Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks) rangers who ordered a Zambian man to swim across Zambezi River with his son (4) on his back causing their death have been sentenced to 12 years in jail for culpable homicide.
Jefrey Munkuli (39) and Benjamin Nhidza (38) were punishing Abel Ngandu who was aged 30 and his countrymen for poaching fish on the Zimbabwean side of the river.
Ngandu had gone fishing with his little son Dennis.
Bulawayo High Court judge Justice Thompson Mabhikwa who is on circuit in Hwange found Munkuli and Nhidza guilty of two counts of a lesser charge of culpable homicide.
He sentenced the duo to 12 years for both counts before suspending four years for five years on condition of good behaviour.
The judge said the duo acted negligently and caused the death of Ngandu and his son.
He, however, said they were lucky to escape with a lighter sentence after the court considered that they had spent 10 years before being tried which robbed them of their right to fair trial within a reasonable time.
Munkuli and Nhidza were still employed by ZimParks when they appeared in court yesterday.
“While no physical force was used, there is no doubt that the accused acted unreasonably leading to loss of two lives. The accused should not in any way have acted in the way they did. What the witness Nicholas Makaya witnessed resembled Friday the 13th movie seeing his four-year old cousin being agonisingly swept by water while he was clutching on a rock fighting for safety as well. As officers of the law you shouldn’t have acted recklessly regardless of the nationality of these people that you had arrested,” said the judge.
He said it was clear that Munkuli and Nhidza forced the deceased to swim across the crocodile infested river.
Justice Mabhikwa said Munkuli and Nhidza were negligent by failing to stop the deceased and their colleagues from entering the river, saying the court does not believe the deceased jumped into the water on their own accord as claimed by the accused.
Two Zambian witnesses Joseph Masuku (26) and Nicholas Makaya (25) who were (then) aged 17 and 16 years respectively testified as they narrated the events of the fateful day.
Munkuli and Nhidza’s pro-deo lawyer Mr Givemore Mvhiringi had pleaded for a suspended sentence saying this was a unique case.
Prosecutor Mr Bheki Tshabalala said the duo showed no contrition as they did not attempt to help the deceased especially the four-year-old boy who slipped off his father’s back as the two were being swept downstream.
The incident happened on October 16, 2010.
“The accused were on patrol on Chomuzi Island Zambezi River when they saw five Zambians who had crossed into Zimbabwe illegally and were poaching fish in the river. They arrested Ngandu and took away a canoe, fishing nets and fish before ordering them to swim back to their country,” said the prosecutor.
The court heard that Ngandu carried his son on his shoulders and attempted to swim across but both drowned in the process. Their bodies were later recovered on the Zambia side.