Defence punches holes in top cop’s testimony in Madzibaba Ishmael Chokurongerwa’s cult case


NORTON – In a gripping court session on Tuesday, July 2, 2024, an investigating officer's testimony against Madzibaba Ishmael Chokurongerwa and seven others appeared to falter under cross-examination, providing a potential boost to the defense's case.

Madzibaba Ishmael, nine years ago. [Image: The Herald]

The officer, who took the witness stand, described the accused as leaders of a cult, alleging they were establishing a quasi-independent enclave by flouting legal provisions. 

He claimed that Chokurongerwa and his associates, leaders of the Johane Masowe eChishanu sect, enforced doctrines that prohibited the registration of births and deaths, barred children from attending school, and engaged in child labor. 

Furthermore, he accused them of urging congregants to sell their properties and surrender the proceeds to the church leaders, treating all members, including adults, as minors.

The alleged malpractices were said to have occurred at Plot 6 of Lilly Farm in Nyabira, the purported crime scene. 

However, under cross-examination by defense lawyer Musindo Hungwe of MD Hungwe Law Firm, the officer admitted he had no concrete evidence to support his claims in court.

Hungwe, seizing the opportunity, systematically challenged the officer's testimony, suggesting it was based on hearsay and therefore inadmissible. 

He questioned the officer's understanding of constitutional rights, particularly the freedom of religion and conscience, emphasizing that the congregants were not coerced into worshipping under Chokurongerwa. 

Hungwe further demanded proof of the church's legal existence and the specific roles of the accused within the organization. 

The officer conceded that his assertions were informed by interviews with congregants, but those statements were not documented in the court files.

A particularly contentious point was the obligation of Siribiniyo Chikunhire to report the death and burial of his daughter, Hezel. 

While the officer claimed Chikunhire had this duty, Hungwe argued it only applied if Chikunhire was aware of the death or present at the burial. 

He pointed out that the prosecution had not provided evidence to show Chikunhire’s awareness or presence, leaving open the possibility that he was entirely uninvolved, similar to Hezel's mother.

The defense's rigorous questioning appeared to undermine the prosecution's case, casting doubt on the evidence presented.

The trial, presided over by Norton resident magistrate Christina Nyandoro, is scheduled to continue on July 11, 2024.

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