‘Extraordinary’ twist in SA, Zim torture trial

There’s been what has been described as an ‘extraordinary’ twist in a landmark court case in South Africa, which will urge the authorities there to investigate and prosecute high level Zimbabwean officials accused of crimes against humanity.

The case, filed by the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) and the South Africa based Zimbabwe Exiles Forum was meant to get underway on Monday. The groups are asking the High Court to review and set aside a decision made by South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the police not to investigate Zimbabwean officials linked to acts of state-sanctioned torture. This followed a police raid on the headquarters of the MDC in 2007.

But the start of the case was postponed to Tuesday after “stunning” new testimony from one of the key respondents. Anton Ackermann, the head of the NPA’s Priority Crimes Litigation Unit, last week lodged his testimony before the court – indicating that he had recommended an investigation, had disagreed with the police’s reasons for not pursuing the case and had been “manipulated and misled” by both his colleagues within the NPA and the State’s Advocate.

“The contents of Ackermann’s affidavit cast serious doubt over the reasons that the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Police Commissioner gave for not initiating an investigation into these crimes against humanity,” said Nicole Fritz, Executive Director of SALC.

Fritz told SW Radio Africa that Ackermann’s new testimony “also calls into question the very independence and impartiality of the NPA and its prosecutors.”

“Ackermann is in law responsible for the management and direction of investigations and prosecutions of international crimes and he was the original recipient of SALC’s request to initiate an investigation. According to his sworn testimony, he called for a docket to be opened, SALC to be consulted, the Priority Crimes Unit to be approached for guidance and for the docket to be submitted to the NPA for a final decision. None of these recommendations were followed,” Fritz said.

Fritz also explained that Ackermann’s new evidence demonstrates “his attempts to provide his version of events were met with persistent resistance on the part of his colleagues, and even threats.”

In correspondence between Ackermann and the State Advocate Christopher Macadam, Ackermann was warned to “very carefully and seriously consider the implications of including a statement that you were not satisfied… which has very important consequences for both the Applicants and the Respondents. I also believe that the court would be required to make findings on your ethical conduct which could result in further action being taken against you.”

Fritz meanwhile applauded Ackermann’s decision to come forward with this testimony because of the precedence it sets for the rule of law in South Africa. But she warned that Ackermann could now be “punished” for coming forward.

“It is prosecutors such as Ackermann that inspire confidence in the justice system and the rule of law so we really hope this does not happen and the NPA proceeds properly in dealing with this,” Fritz said.

The case will now get underway on Tuesday. – SW Radio Africa News

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