By Philip Chirwa
On Friday, 12th September,2014, a Kitwe magistrate, Daniel Musonda, might have shocked, if not amused, many people when he issued a bench warrant against Holy Fire Ministries Bishop Dominic Nyondo who had been facing three counts of defilement, four counts of rape and two counts of indecent assault before his court.
The magistrate went further to issue a “one day” order to the clergyman’s two sureties to pay K5,000 each or face four months imprisonment with hard labour if they failed to find the money!
The bench warrant against the accused and the orders against the sureties were prompted by the bishop’s failure to appear before the court. The magistrate noted that Bishop Nyondo had no intention of coming to court.
What made the magistrate’s action seem strange was that it had been widely reported in the media in the recent past that Bishop Nyondo had committed suicide by throwing himself into the Kafue River. According to press reports, the clergyman had even left a suicide note in which he explained the reasons for taking his own life and asking his victims to forgive him.
But despite these reports, the magistrate went ahead to issue a bench warrant against Bishop Nyondo and to issue a ”one day” order to the two sureties to pay the K5,000 they had signed for or risk going to jail for four months with hard labour!
The question is: how come the court issued a bench warrant against someone who was supposed to have died by throwing himself into the Kafue River? Answer: there was no concrete evidence produced before the court to prove that the bishop had actually committed suicide because by that day when the magistrate made his decision, his body had not been recovered from the river.
In other words, in the absence of physical proof, the prosecution were of the view that the clergyman had merely faked his own death – that he had merely gone into hiding just to evade the course of justice and would resurface one day. But is it possible for someone to fake one’s own death? I wouldn’t know, but read the following story involving a case I dealt with during my course of duty at the Zambia High Commission in Pretoria, South Africa.
On 28th December, 2009, Lusaka Central Police faxed to the Pretoria Mission a Death Certificate and a Burial Certification Letter purporting to show that one Brenda Mwanza, a Zambian national, died in Johannesburg, South Africa, on 15th December, 2009 and was buried at Johannesburg’s Westpark Cemetery four days later on 19th December , 2009. For sometime Zambia Police had been looking for the said Brenda Mwanza in connection with a house scam involving over K100 million(old currency.)The police could not arrest her because she had reportedly fled to South Africa.
Meanwhile, on Monday, 28th December, 2009, the police received information that the same suspect had died. The details of her death were as follows:
•Name of Deceased: Brenda Mwanza
•Date of Birth: 14th October, 1974
•Date of Death: 15th December, 2009
•Place of Death: Johannesburg
•Cause of Death: Natural Causes
•Date of Burial: 19th December, 2009
•Place of Burial:Westpark Cemetery, JHB
•Ref No: B. Mwanza/F/081208
•Grave No: GC 49022
•Supervisor at the cemetery: John Goosen
•Death Certificate No. B9373360 issued on 18th December, 2009
There was no record of the medical institution where Brenda was hospitalized and died.
We were informed that Mwanza had been on bail with other accused persons in the case.
However, when the case came up for mention sometime in July, 2009, Mwanza allegedly failed to show up on account that she was sick and had been evacuated to South Africa for specialist treatment. Then a few days later, the police received a report that she had died in Johannesburg.
The purpose of faxing us these documents was for the Mission to confirm whether or not the documents were genuine and legally issued by the South African government. The Zambia Police needed this information before they could decide whether or not to discontinue the investigations against the suspect.
The High Commissioner, Mr Leslie Mbula, instructed me to investigate the case and submit my findings to him.
It was a normal routine at my Mission that where a Zambian national died in South Africa, assistance of the Mission was sought to authorize his or her burial whether such burial took place in South Africa or in Zambia. The authority was issued in the name of the undertaker responsible for the disposal of a particular person’s remains. I am sure the same arrangement is obtaining today.
Thus, the first thing I did upon receipt of the fax from Lusaka was to check our records at the Mission. The officer responsible for issuing these letters, Mr Ronald Ndumba, First Secretary (Immigration), was contacted. Mr Ndumba’s reaction was that unless the said Brenda Mwanza had taken up South African citizenship, in which case the Mission’s authority could not be sought for her burial, he had no record of her death.
The chairman of the Zambian Association in South Africa (ZASA), Mr Edwin Mununga, was also contacted. He lived in Johannesburg and he or any of the members of his executive could have known about the death of a Zambian national in the City of Gold. He said neither he nor any of his members had heard anything about the death of a Ms Brenda Mwanza from Zambia.
A physical check at Westpark Cemetery in Johannesburg on 29th December, 2009, revealed that there was no such a person as Brenda Mwanza who was buried at the burial place on 19th December, 2009; nor was there any person bearing such name buried there immediately before or immediately after that date. I was given a big register to check through and there was no such record.
In so far as Westpark Cemetery was concerned, therefore, John Goosen, the man purported to be a supervisor at the cemetery and the person who signed the Burial Certification Letter confirming that Brenda Mwanza was buried there on 19th December, 2009, did not exist.
The man managing the cemetery at the time was a Mr Reggie Moloi and not Mr John Goosen.
There was no grave at Westpark Cemetery bearing the allocation No. VC49022. In fact, according to Mr Moloi, the number was even alien to him!
And to investigate the issue further, on 30th December, 2009, I went to the Department(Ministry) of Home Affairs in Pretoria and presented the purported Death Certificate to an official at the Death Registry. The official, who declined to give his name on the ground that he was not a spokesperson for the Department, explained that the process of verifying burials in South Africa was long and cumbersome and took something like two to three months.
However, the official was able to state categorically that the Death Certificate in question could not be genuine because, as a standard practice, such documents were completed manually with a pen and not in type-written form.
He even produced several used books containing duplicate copies of death certificates issued by the Department to confirm what he was saying.
On the basis of this preliminary investigation, the Mission was able to conclude that the Death Certificate and Burial Certification Letter purporting to have been issued by the South African government on 18th December and 19th December, 2009, respectively were forgeries. The Lusaka Central Police were informed accordingly.
Interestingly enough, two weeks later, the Mission was informed that Brenda Mwanza had been re-arrested in Lusaka following a tip off from members of the public. Apparently, she never even went to South Africa……
The author is a Lusaka-based media consultant who also served in the foreign service as a diplomat in South Africa and Botswana. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org