Thandeka Moyo and Emily Mbewe Court Reporters
THREE Bulawayo men who masqueraded as private transport operators in order to rob commuters of their valuables and cash, were yesterday sentenced to 97 years each in prison after they were convicted of 11 counts of robbery.
Grant Chaniwa, 27 from Emakhandeni, Tauya Rukani, 31 from Pumula South and Mpumelelo Dube from Nkulumane were convicted on their own plea of guilty by regional magistrate, Sikhumbuzo Nyathi.
They will, however, serve an effective 62 years in prison each after Nyathi suspended 35 years on condition of good behaviour and that they restitute their victims.
Of the 17 passengers they robbed, one was a uniformed policewoman.
The three also threw one couple off their moving Honda Fit vehicle, which they used in committing all their crimes.
Chaniwa, Rukani, and Dube are part of a six member syndicate which terrorised residents from all over the city from February 3 to 14.
The three said they were unemployed and had to engage in crime to fend for their families.
Delivering his sentence yesterday, regional magistrate Nyathi said the crimes committed by the three traumatised passengers who use pirate taxis.
“The three men are first offenders, young family man who pleaded guilty and did not waste the court’s time. However, there was a high degree of planning before committing these crimes. The offences were committed in quick succession and courts should therefore pass deterrent sentences in such cases,” said magistrate Nyathi.
He bemoaned the increase in robbery cases in the city saying the trio’s sentence should be a warning to would-be offenders.
“For count 1, 4, 7 and 8 each accused is sentenced to eight years imprisonment per count with three years suspended on condition of good behaviour. For count 5, 6 and 9 each man is sentenced to 12 years imprisonment per count with three suspended for five years on condition of good behaviour.”
He said count two and three would be treated as one for purposes of sentencing and sentenced them 10 years in jail each, with three years suspended for five years on condition of good behaviour.
“For count 10, you are sentenced to 10 years imprisonment, three years suspended and for count 11 you will serve nine years, three suspended for five years on condition of good behaviour. In total each man will serve an effective 62 years in prison ,” said magistrate Nyathi.
The three’s wives and relatives who were in attendance wailed loudly when the magistrate pronounced the sentence.
Chaniwa will on Monday appear before regional magistrate Chrispen Mberewere facing separate robbery charges with two other robbery suspects, Easyboy Tshabangu of Emakhandeni and Lovemore Ncube.
Prosecuting Masimba Saruwaka told the court that on February 3 at around 8PM, Shephered Mrowa boarded the three men’s vehicle heading to Mpopoma. He sat on the back seat and Chaniwa was driving while Rukani and Dube were passengers in the car.
On their way, Chaniwa requested to drop off a client at one of the houses in Tshabalala. After diverting, he parked in a dark spot and the three men robbed Mrowa of an Iphone and $8. On the following day, the three picked up two women at around 9PM along Robert Mugabe Way in the city centre. The two women were looking for lifts to Morningside and Famona.
Along the way they stopped on the side of the road. They slapped the women demanding cash and cellphones. The women surrendered a Samsung galaxy Note 3, an IPad, HP laptop, $30 and personal documents.
Saruwaka said the women managed to open the car doors and escaped into the darkness.
The three robbers met their fourth victim along the Bulawayo-Harare Highway on February 6 at about 10PM.
The man was also looking for lifts. Along the way Chaniwa said there was a police roadblock near Cecil Avenue and he wanted to evade it by diverting into a road that leads to Parklands. As soon as the car turned, Rukani slapped the man and together with his accomplices they robbed him of his two phones and a tablet.
The court heard that on February at 8PM, a couple boarded the vehicle at Herbert Chitepo Street and Khami road heading to Pumula South. Rukani who was standing outside the vehicle pretended to be a commuter and also jumped into the car with the couple.
When the vehicle was near the intersection of Masiyephambili Drive, Rukani suddenly hit the man with a hard object on his right eye and the man retaliated. Dube then produced a knife and held it against the man’s neck and demanded money.
Chaniwa also produced a knife while driving and threatened to harm the man’s wife. The trio robbed the couple of three phones and $185. Dube then jumped from his seat onto the boot and opened it while Rukani opened the left rear passenger’s door and pushed the couple out while the car was still in motion.
An hour later, the men gave a lift to a uniformed policewoman who was heading to Cowdray Park. They picked the cop along 6th Avenue and when they got to Matshobane robots, Chaniwa requested to drop off a passenger at a house in the suburb.
While in the suburb, they stopped the car and Rukani shut the cop’s mouth with his palm and told her to cooperate if she wanted to live. They robbed her of a phone, $130 and a new pair of jeans. She was then ordered to leave the car before they sped off.