Dressed in his old guerrilla uniform, Zimbabwean Planning Minister Edgar Tekere personally led the attack against a farm near Salisbury in which an elderly white man was killed, a judge said today.
High Court Judge Anthony Smith revealed the details of the murder of which Tekere is accused in a judgment that explained why he was denying Tekere bail. Smith said he believed Tekere might try to hide from police or interfere with the investigation of the murder.
The hearing last week had been closed to the press because of "extremely sensitive evidence" that would prejudice "public safety and order," according to Smith.
The murder charge against Tekere has given Prime Minister Robert Mugabe's three-month-old administration one of its most sensitive and crucial tests. Blacks and whites alike will be watching to see how the process of law under the new black majority government responds to the criminal charge against Tekere, who as secretary general of Mugabe's ruling Zimbabwe African National Union holds an extremely powerful position in the country.
According to the judgment released today, Tekere attended a party at one of the three homesteads on a farm west of Salisbury on the night before the murder. During the party, shots were fired at the house and people there with Tekere returned the fire, according to police.
The next day, Tekere put on a military uniform, saying he had "a battle to fight." With a number of armed men also in uniform, he returned to the farm and opened fire on a dwelling occupied by five soldiers of the former Rhodesian Army. Those soldiers, who were not the same ones who had been in the house the night before, fled according the police.
Tekere's party then allegedly moved to the home of the farmer, 68-year-old William Adams, and opened fire on it. In a statement to police, Tekere claimed that Adams had fired on his group and he was killed when they returned the shots.
But a .32-caliber pistol belonging to Adams that Tekere had admitted to police was in his possession or with one of his men, was missing. Police did not find any spent cartridges from the weapon at the scene of the crime, Smith's judgment said.
"Despite numerous atempts by the police to persuade him to hand over this weapon, he had not done so," Smith said of Tekere. "Whether the deceased returned fire is in dispute," he said.
The night of the murder police found the minister with three or four armed bodyguards at his city apartment and he resisted police requests to go to the station to make a statement, Smith said. A police officer told the court that Tekere did not at that time seem to appreciate the gravity of his conduct. The next day, however, Tekere went to a police station where he and his men were disarmed and made statements.
"The accused's attitude was that he had engaged in a military mopping-up operation against those who had fired on him the previous day. He had worn a guerrilla-type uniform for the operation," Smith's judgment said. "He said he had deliberately not brought the police in because he considered it to be a personal challenge."
In explaining the reasons for not releasing Tekere on bail, Smith said that "there were various places in the country to which the police did not have free access because the person in control would not allow it." The judge no doubt had in mind the numerous holding camps scattered across the country where members of Mugabe's former guerrilla army are stationed.
Smith said he felt that Tekere, a former guerrilla commander who is popular with the guerrilla forces, "would with ease be able to take refuge in such places" and "find a safe haven beyond the reach of the law."
Smith's refusal to grant bail was no doubt further influenced by what he saw as Tekere's attitude that "he had been justified in acting as he did and he related, not without pride, how he had conducted the 'operation'," according to the judge.
The South African press agency quoted police sources in Salisbury as saying that Tekere would make a second request for release on bail "in the light of fresh evidence."