Masuku, president of the banned People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), had been in jail on remand for 10 months since November 2008 after his arrest for allegedly making statements at a May Day rally to incite people to terrorism.
The state’s evidence against Masuku was so poor that the trial that was expected to last several days lasted no more than five hours.
High Court Judge Mbutfo Mamba halted the trial after being presented with ‘poor quality of evidence’ by the prosecution led by Swaziland’s Director of Public Prosecutions Mumcy Dlamini.
The High Court was faced with incoherent statements by witnesses and what even the Swazi Observer, the newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, called ‘a series of dramatic errors’.
According to the Observer, five witnesses had presented their evidence before Judge Mamba halted the trial, including police superintendent Mike Zwane, the officer in charge of investigating Masuku.
Evidence brought to the court by the first witness Sithembiso Shongwe was dismissed because it was irrelevant.
Judge Mamba ruled that the evidence was inadmissible because Shongwe kept telling the court about activities planned by PUDEMO in meetings that were held in South Africa.
It turned out that Shongwe was himself in custody on an undisclosed charge and was escorted from the court in leg irons after he gave his evidence. Shongwe claimed to have been trained by the PUDEMO military wing, Umbane. He said Umbane’s main objectives were to engage in guerrilla warfare so that the government could be forced to the negotiating table and allow democracy in Swaziland
The case descended into farce when one witness, owing to poor sight, spent about two minutes trying to spot Mario Masuku in court.
The Times of Swaziland reported Kwanele Dlamini, from Siteki, was asked to identify Masuku from the people in court and requested to move out of the witness stand to try and spot him. Dlamini then went around the court room, looking and inspecting at all the people who were present in court, trying to find Masuku. He was even misled by some of the people in court by jeering and shouting that he was not present, but the determined Dlamini looked at almost everyone before spotting Masuku seated at the accused dock.
During cross examination, according to the Observer, another witness Banele Dlamini made jumbled statements and kept on contradicting himself during cross examination. When advocate Norman Kades asked probing questions on Masuku’s utterances, he said he could not possibly remember everything because the accused had made a long speech.
Advocate Kades observed that the witnesses had conveniently remembered aspects about Masuku’s utterances on terrorism which would seem to favour the interests of the crown. Mbambiseni Maseko who was also brought before the court as a witness also contradicted himself.
Masuku had been charged with contravening the Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA) after he uttered statements to the effect that PUDEMO would continue with the bombing of vital government structures in Swaziland last year at the funeral of the late Musa Dlamini who was killed during a bomb blast at Lozitha bridge.
The state, uncertain it could force a conviction under the STA had an alternative charge under the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act of 1938.