Manpower Minister Edgar Tekere fired 34 shots from his assault rifle during an attack on a farm where a white farmer was killed last August, the prosecution said today in opening the murder trial of the radical Zimbabwean official.
Tekere, under the influence of alcohol or drugs, later that night boasted to police, "I've had contact . . . I don't look like a minister -- I've been fighting." State Attorney Christopher Glaum told the court.
Tekere and his seven bodyguards are charged with attempting to murder five soldiers as well as with the murder of Gerald William Adams on the latter's farm 13 miles west of Salisbury.
The case could have far-reaching impact on this newly independent African nation where the nervous white minority is watching to see whether a black government will continue to apply standards of justice laid down by whites. Aside from his Cabinet position, Tekere is the secretary general of Prime Minister Robert Mugabe's ruling party and has close ties with the former guerrilla forces that fought for black-majority rule.
Tekere is seeking to use a 1975 emergency law of the white regime of Ian Smith to have the case dismissed. He lost the first round in that battle this morning when the appellate court said it had no jurisdiction to consider the appeal at this stage of the trial. It returned the case to Judge John Pittman.
Before asking Tekere to enter his plea, Pittman, who was appointed by the Smith government, asked the senior minister if he was "conversant in English."
The grim-faced Tekere answered that he was and then said: "I plead not guilty on the basis of the indemnity and compensation act." His codefendants made similar pleas.
The controversial 1975 act has been criticized as virtually a license to kill for officials. It protects from prosecution any high official taking any action "whatever" if it is carried out "in good faith for the purposes of or in connection with the suppression of terrorism." Passed during the peak of the seven-year guerrilla war, the law also obsolves persons acting under the direction of such high officials.
Prosecuting Attorney Glaum outlined a detailed case against the defendants, saying he planned to call 43 witnesses.
In the first public disclosure of the police case against Tekere, Glaum said:
The defendants fired almost 300 shots during the attack on the farm.
One assailant shouted "Viva ZANU!" (Mugabe's party) and another yelled that all five soldiers stationed on the farm were "going to be killed."
There was no evidence that any of the victims were given a chance to surrender.
He also presented a statement that Tekere gave to police at the time of his arrest. The minister said he had told Mugabe and visiting Mozambican President Samora Machel the morning of Aug. 4 that "I was going on an inspection operation to see . . . who had fired" shots the night before when he attended a party on the farm.
Although the statement did not say Mugabe had advance knowledge of Tekere's intentions, any testimony that even hints at involvement of the prime minister would be explosive.
The difficulties began on Aug. 3 when Tekere and three other ministers attended a party on the farm that had recently been bought by a black member of parliament. An altercation occurred when one of the soldiers based on the farm attempted to attend the party. Glaum said the soldier was assaulted, escaped his captors and fired three shots in the air from a distance.
The shooting led to Tekere's return foray to the farm the next day and the subsequent attack.
Glaum said Tekere's guard, Joseph Chakanetsa, killed Adams with three shots fired to the back, head and neck. The prosecutor said the shots were among 64 fired by Chakanetsa, who yawned and nodded sleepily from the bench where the eight defendants sat.
Tekere went to the police station that night to complain about police presence in the vicinity of his home. Glaum said the minister "was outfitted in combat fatigues and armed with an AK rifle."
The prosecutor cited the opinion of a police inspector that Tekere "was to some extent under the influence of alcohol or drugs but not to the extent" where police action was necessary.
Defense spokesman John Jackson, a disbarred South African attorney living in England, told reporters that the prosecutor's evidence, in "a normal case" would be "strong." He added, however, that this was not a normal case because Tekere's basic defense was that he was absolved from prosecution by the indemnity and compensation act.
The defense maintains that under this act it must only prove that Tekere was acting in good faith in seeking to suppress terrorism.
The head of the defense team, Louis Blom-Cooper, said he will not contest much of the evidence dealing with the Aug. 4 attack but will concentrate on the Aug. 3 incidents which, he said, convinced Tekere that there had been an attempt to assassinate him.
The trial is expected to last at least two weeks.