Court Watch 05 - 2022 Court Monitoring Series - S v Blessed Mhlanga


[25 October 2022]

S v Blessed Mhlanga


Court Monitoring Series

On the 15th of September 2022, Alpha Media Holdings journalist, Blessed Mhlanga was acquitted of carrying out disorderly conduct in a polling station and so bringing his trial to an end. Blessed Mhlanga had been arrested on the 7th of May in Chitungwiza. At the time, he had been filming a documentary on the access to water. Whilst doing so, he recorded the arrest of opposition MP, Job Sikhala. The police then ordered Mhlanga to desist from recording. Mhlanga then notified the police that he is a journalist but the police went on to allegedly punch him, smash his phone to the ground and arrest him. There was a nearby bystander, one Moses Hakata, who tried to stop the assault by the police but was soon arrested as well. At the time, Mhlanga had not been working alone. His co-worker Chengeto Chidi went up to him to get car keys from him. As she did this, she too was arrested.  

The First Appearance

At the time of the arrest, neither of the were promptly informed of the reasons why they had been arrested. A formal charge was then brought before the court on the 9th of May 2022. At the Magistrates Court in Chitungwiza, the two were charged accordingly:

    1.  Contravening s25(a) read with s30 of Statutory Instrument 21 of 2005 which prohibits taking photographs within polling stations
    2. The alternative charge of disorderly conduct in a polling station as defined in s89 of the Electoral Act
    3. Contravening s147(f) of the Electoral Act relating to the ban of bands, music and noise emitting devices at polling stations.

On first appearance before Magistrate Isheanesu Matova granted both the journalists bail on remand. The bail was set at ZWL20 000. The third charge was later dropped for both the journalists.

At the first appearance, the lawyer, Jeremiah Bamu, who was representing Mhlanga, made a complaint against the police for the way in which Mhlanga has been treated at arrest. This was the second time making a complaint of such a nature as he had lodged a complaint at the police station as well. The Magistrate then ordered an investigation to be made into the complaint.

At the request of Mr Bamu, the police later returned Mhlanga’s phone but refused to return Chidi’s phone and camera as they said they were evidence in the matter.

The Subsequent Events of the Court Case

The trial of the two commenced on the 13th of June and on the 29th of July 2022, Chengeto Chidi was acquitted on both charges. On this same date, Blessed Mhlanga was acquitted of being in contravention of the law against taking photographs at a polling station. The trial continued on the charge of disorderly conduct at a polling station.

At trial, Mr Bamu yet again brought up the case of the assault by the police. He pointed out that both the court and the police had not made any progress on the complaint he lodged on behalf of his client. He even went further to point out that the very police officer who had been the subject of the assault complaint was still a State witness in the matter. 

On the 15th of September 2022, Blessed Mhlanga was acquitted of disorderly conduct at a polling station.

Comments on the case

This matter proves to be of great importance as it highlights pertinent issues surrounding freedom of the press. Under s61 of the Constitution, journalists have the freedom to seek, receive and communicate ideas. Under s64, they also have the freedom of profession like any other citizen. By barring Mhlanga and Chidi from taking footage of the arrest of an MP, the police risked the infringement of these rights.

Another matter of concern in this case arises from the police not immediately informing the arrested persons of the reasons for the arrest. Under s50(1)(a) of the Constitution, any person who is arrested must be informed at the time of arrest, the reason for their arrest.

In this matter, it was also mentioned that a complaint against the police was made. Although the outcome of this investigation that was then ordered by the Magistrate is not known at the time of writing, it is important to mention that for justice to be done and for justice to be seen to be done. Often, complaints against police are lodged but as Mr Bamu pointed out in the matter, to no real conclusion. With the coming in of the Zimbabwe Independent Complaints Commission Act, it is in our hopes that this narrative will change and that security forces will be held accountable.


This case seeks to bring about some pertinent issues about how arrested persons are treated at the hands of the justice system. The Constitution of Zimbabwe sets out strict human rights standards which must be adhered to at all times. We urge all stakeholders to remember their constitutional mandate and take note of Constitutional rights when dealing with arrested persons.

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