THE ringleader of a quartet suspected to have wanted to bomb Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe’s dairy plant has been sentenced to an effective nine-year jail term after he pleaded guilty to charges of terrorism and money-laundering.
Harare provincial magistrate Hoseah Mujaya on Tuesday sentenced Owen Kuchata, 34, to nine years in prison on the terrorism charge, saying the sentence was lighter since he had not wasted the court’s time.
One year was suspended on the condition he not commit a similar offence in the next five years.
On the second count of money-laundering, Kuchata was jailed two years.
The money-laundering charge arose from the raising of US$36 for buying petrol, fertiliser, sand, glass granules and nails to be used in manufacturing the petrol bombs the men were caught with.
He will serve one year of the second count concurrently with the first sentence.
Following a tip-off, police laid an ambush and at around 10pm on January 22, pounced on Kuchata, Borman Ngwenya, 30, Solomon Makumbe, 29, and Silas Pfupa, 37, as they approached the plant.
Ngwenya, Makombe and Pfupa all have military backgrounds.
They were searched and each of them was found with four Molotov cocktails, ammonium nitrate, nails and sand in 750ml brandy bottles in their backpacks.
Also found with them were a Zimbabwe People’s Front political manifesto, party constitution and documents in relation to the political party’s activities.
Allegations against them are that they were aggrieved by Mugabe’s perceived failure in ruling Zimbabwe and that they accused the Zimbabwean leader ‑ who turns 92 on February 21 ‑ of “causing suffering to Zimbabweans because of his alleged dictatorial leadership style”.
During sentencing, father-of-one Kuchata pleaded for the court’s leniency after the magistrate told him his offence attracted the possibility of life imprisonment.
“I’m asking for forgiveness. I will never repeat it and I have come to realise that what I wanted to do was wrong,” Kuchata said.
Prosecutor Michael Reza said a 25-year sentence would meet the justice of the offence.
But Mujaya said even 20 years in prison for the crime was too harsh.
Asked why he had planned to bomb Mugabe’s Gushungo Dairy plant and tuckshop in Mazowe, about 60km north of Harare, Kuchata said he wanted the Zimbabwean leader to experience how it felt to have his private property demolished the same way several other citizens had had theirs put down.
Since 2006, when Mugabe’s administration instituted Operation Murambatsvina, which left more than 800,000 people homeless after their houses were demolished, many others have also had their houses razed to the ground.
” I noticed how Zimbabweans are suffering and thought by bombing his private property, he will also feel pain. People in Zimbabwe are suffering. There are no jobs. People are being fired from work. There are shortages of medication in hospitals,” Kuchata told the court Tuesday after being asked why he had planned the bombing.
“When I thought of petrol-bombing his private property, it was a way of telling the President that this is how Zimbabweans were suffering. I thought he was going to stop the demolitions.”
He said he did not want to push Mugabe out of office, but that he wanted the Zimbabwean leader, now 36 years in power since independence, to feel the pain.
The magistrate rapped Kuchata for attempting to use force to remove the current government from power, saying the latter method was only practical in countries such as Afghanistan.
But Kuchata said at first, he found it proper to use force, but later realised he was committing an offence after he was arrested.
He said there were no chances of their petrol bombs hurting other people at the plant since him, Ngwenya and Makumbe had gone to the place previously and had obtained information that on that particular day, there would be no one at the plant.
The case has also sucked in Prosecutor-General Johannes Tomana after he was arrested for abuse of office for allegedly instructing his subordinate, Michael Mugabe, to enter a bargain plea with two of the quartet.
Charges against Makumbe and Pfupa were then dropped before plea and they were to be turned into State witnesses, which application was granted by the court.
They were then released, but immediately rearrested on another charge of treason.
Tomana is currently out on US$1 000 bail and will be back in court on February 16, while Ngwenya, Makumbe and Pfupa will appear in court two days later. – ANA