The state called today for the conviction of senior Cabinet minister Edgar Tekere on charges of murdering a white farmer and attempting to kill five soldiers as the prosecution and defense gave closing arguments in the 13-day-old trial.
The defense argued that Tekere and his seven co-defendants should be acquitted on the basis of a controversial 1975 indemnity law that absolves high officials and their aides from criminal proceedings for "any act whatsoever" carried out "in good faith for the purposes of the suppression of terrorism."
Prosecutor Christopher Glaum called Tekere, minister for manpower and the third-ranking official in Prime Minister Robert Mugabe's ruling party, "proud, volatiles and hot-headed." Tekere was accused of seeking "personal revenge" because he was "humiliated" by a soldier during an incident on a farm west of Salisbury last August.
Louis Blom-Cooper of Britain, Tekere's senior defense attorney, said the case had to be looked at through African rather than European eyes. He cited the "revolutionary changes" that had come about since the advent of black majority rule in Zimbabwe last April.
Tekere was justified in leading an attack on the farm Aug. 4 in which Gerald William Adams, 68, was killed, Blom-Cooper said. Tekere and his seven bodyguards believed they were "suppressing terrorism," according to the attorney, because the previous day a soldier had fired his rifle toward the farmhouse where Tekere and several other ministers were attending a party.
Judge John Pittman, a white, sharply criticized interpretations by both attorneys over the Indemnity Act but gave no hint which way he would rule.
The court's verdict on this issue is likely to determine the fate of Tekere and could have a far-reaching impact on the stability of this southern African nation, born out of a seven-year guerrilla war.
If acquitted, the radical minister could lead a challenge to the moderate peace Mugabe is following in implementing black rule.
Tekere has a strong following among the military wing of Mugabe's party and his conviction could lead to internal friction within the organization.
Glaum is scheduled to give the prosecuion's rebuttal arguments Thursday before the case goes to Pittman and the two "assessors" for a verdict expected early next week. The judge is the sole authority on matters of law but the assessors, a black and a mixed-race man, can outvote Pittman in determining questions of fact.
The case is replete with ironies centered around Tekere's indemnity law defense. The law was promulgated by the white government in 1975 as the war mounted to protect officials against actions taken mainly against the guerrilas associated with Tekere.
The minister's defense in the killing of Adams and shooting hundreds of rounds at five soldiers on the farm will probably be the last involving the indemnity law. It was repealed last Friday.
Defense attorney Nick McNally, who designed Tekere's defense around the act, often assisted clients who were victimized by it under the old regime.
"It's a wicked act -- a license for officials to kill," he told a reporter. He and other liberal opponents of former prime minister Ian Smith often warned in the past that the law, which does not contain a definition of terrorism, could be used against whites in the future.
Blom-Cooper demonstrated just how all-encompassing he regards the Indemnity Act. "You may think Mr. Tekere's action was unwise, foolhardy, but that is not the issue," he said. " It is simply a question of whether the men were acting in good faith in the suppression of terrorism." Blom-Cooper admitted it was "an unattractive defense."
Meanwhile, aboiut 300 people gathered this morning in front of the prime minister's office to protest a new outbreak of violence in the black township of Chitungwiza outside Salisbury.
Five persons were killed there in the last two days. Last week 58 were killed in a Bulawayo suburb in the worst violence since the country gained its independence in April.