Mystery brown shoe box keeps Musa in court

Musa NgubeniSwazi student leader Musa Ngubeni insists that the charges of possession of explosives against him are fabricated and political, and that the state has more or less deliberately stalled his case for over three years due to lack of evidence.

“The brown shoe box was never produced in court, so I am not really sure what I have to answer for in this case,” Musa Ngubeni tells me. He is speaking of a box full of wires, explosives and detonators that the Swazi state claims was found near his home in Mbikwakhe in 2011, but which the prosecution has failed to produce.

Ngubeni was subsequently detained, tortured, and charged with possession of explosives during a spate of democracy demonstrations in the absolute monarchy of Swaziland in April 2011 together with fellow Swazi student leader Maxwell Dlamini.

Initially one of the prosecution witnesses had claimed that the explosives were too dangerous to bring to court. Then the explosives had apparently exploded after a South African bomb expert had allegedly tried to assemble it.

When Musa’s attorney requested to have the remnants of the explosives presented in court, the prosecution asked to use undated photographs apparently taken by the South African bomb expert of what they claimed was the remnants of the explosives as evidence. The judge refused.

According to Musa Ngubeni, other claims by the prosecution that he had shown them the box of explosives are also unfounded. “The prosecution alleged that I led them to a pointing out exercise but the prosecution witness who claimed to have taken photos of the pointing out exercise has failed to produce any photos showing me pointing out anything,” he says.

“A pointing exercise requires that after it has taken place it must be reduced to writing by the pointing out officer and later be submitted to court as admission. But no admission note to pointing was produced in court.”

The fact that the state has not produced any evidence against Musa Ngubeni ought to have resulted in him being acquitted. But while Maxwell Dlamini was finally cleared of the same charges against him last week (although he is still in prison due to other equally questionable charges), Ngubeni will have to contend with further months or years of strenuous bail conditions and an expensive court case.

“The bail conditions require me to report to Mbabane Police Headquarters which is 40 kilometres from my home, which means I have to spend 1400 dollars per year on transport,” Musa Ngubeni explains.”I also need financial assistance for my legal fees. This is all financially draining to me.”

That Ngubeni’s passport is confiscated, as part of his tough bail conditions, also means that he can’t register for his final year at law-school at the South African University UNISA.

He got his Bachelor of Laws degree at the University of Swaziland in 2010 before he was arrested, and did his first year of his Master’s degree at the University of South Africa in 2013. In his final year he is expected to meet with his project supervisor in South Africa, however, which will prove challenging as his passport was confiscated as part of his bail conditions.

As Wandile Dludlu, Coordinator at the Swaziland United Democratic Front, explained in a debate about lengthy trials such as Musa’s on the South African eNews Channel Africa earlier in the month, “the judicial system [in Swaziland] is used as a weapon by his majesty’s government to deal with those who disagree with the system. But also as a warning and as a message to would-be activists or proponents of democracy.”

But Musa, who was a very active student representative council chairperson during a series of student protests when he studied at the University of Swaziland in 2008/09, says he will not be intimidated. “I will remain unshaken and climb every branch of this tree to the very last, where justice will finally prevail.”

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