Mute key witness in Simba Chikore kidnapping trial stuns court

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By Mary Taruvinga

A Harare lawyer and key witness in former President Robert Mugabe son-in-law, Simbarashe Chikore’s unlawful detention trial on Wednesday stunned court when she went mute during questioning.

Chikore is accused of detaining expelled Zimbabwe Airways secretary Betha Tsitsi Zakeyo at the company premises after forcing her to sign an employment termination letter. The incident happened in 2018.

During the alleged incident, Zakeyo says she called her friend, Philippa Philips to the scene on the day in question, inadvertently making her key witness in her case.

Philips was scheduled to testify weeks back but she stalled the state’s case after she wrote to prosecution declining to testify.

Her excuse was that Chikore was her client and it would be unethical to testify against him.

The state made efforts to bring her to court but she chose to be quiet on most questions which she was asked, infuriating prosecutor Mirirai Chiremba who threatened to seek her incarceration.

Philips refused to answer questions citing privilege issues and she made it clear she was not going answer questions.

“I can’t respond to that,” she said, “I have a relationship with both the complainant and accused.

“When I arrived at the premises, I was hoping to talk to both parties hoping the matter will not come to this.”

It was Zakeyo’s testimony that the person she called to the scene when she was detained was Philips.

She also told court Philips is the one who told Chikore’s co-accused, Simbarashe Mutimbe that they were going to sue for unlawful detention.

Zakeyo told court that Philips is the one who helped her to file a police report against Chikore.

But Philips went on mute when further questions were put to her, prompting Shumba to request for an interview with her.

However, Chikore’s lawyer Jonathan Samkange challenged the request.

“The state is trying to interfere with the witness,” he said.

Prosecutor Chiremba then said, “This witness is not prepared to answer any questions.

“In terms of the law, if she does not want to give evidence, she can be compelled to do so by incarceration.”

The presiding magistrate, Victoria Mashamba dismissed the State’s request to interview the witness.

However, she ruled that lawyer, client privilege does not apply in Philips’s case as the state does not require confidential information.

“The court will highlight the witness is compelled to testify and if she refuses to answer the questions, the court has the powers to compel her to testify.

“If she refuses, she will be held in contempt. The court also has the powers to imprison her for eight days until she agrees to testify.”

Following the ruling, Philips avoided answering questions prompting Chiremba to apply that she be declared a hostile witness.

Philips also disowned a statement she made to the police which corroborated what Zakeyo said in her evidence in chief.