News and Information

Caprivi high treason trial case moved to Windhoek
May 31, 2005


THE key role that Grootfontein has played in the recent judicial history of Namibia drew to a close yesterday.

The Caprivi high treason trial, which has been heard in the High Court sitting at Grootfontein since late August last year, will now be moved to Windhoek.

A ruling that the trial be shifted to the capital, and that it would resume only on November 1, was given by Judge Elton Hoff in the High Court in Windhoek yesterday.

With that, an era in which Grootfontein had for close to six years been the setting of Namibia's largest criminal trial since Independence is ending.

Grootfontein residents will no longer see traffic through the town brought to a standstill as a convoy of Police vehicles with blaring sirens make two return trips a day from the Grootfontein Prison to the Omulunga town hall, where the High Court was in session.

Grootfontein has been the setting for a multitude of courtroom twists and turns in the Caprivi high treason case for almost six years.

Suspects arrested on charges of high treason after armed alleged separatists staged surprise attacks at Katima Mulilo on August 2 1999 made their first court appearance in the Grootfontein Magistrate's Court on August 23 1999.

Since then, Grootfontein has hosted dozens of court appearances by the treason suspects as their case was postponed repeatedly before the actual trial proceedings commenced before Judge Hoff.

It was four years ago, on May 21 2001, that the treason case was eventually transferred from the Grootfontein Magistrate's Court to the High Court, which was to sit at Grootfontein especially for the purpose of the treason case.

The high treason suspects, then numbering 126 men, made their first appearance in the High Court at the town on June 18 2001.

Many more delays were in store for them, though, until the starting date of October 27 2003 was set for their trial.

On that day, Judge Hoff started hearing a special plea challenging the court's jurisdiction over 13 of the accused men.

It was to take another nine months before this jurisdiction challenge had made its way through the Supreme Court.

On August 23 last year, the trial finally kicked off with an address from Deputy Prosecutor General Taswald July, and the next day Judge Hoff started hearing the first prosecution evidence in the trial of the 120 men remaining in the dock before him.

In his ruling on a prosecution application to shift the trial to Windhoek and to adjourn proceedings until November 1, Judge Hoff recounted that the underlying rationale for this request was a car accident that claimed the life of one of the prosecutors, Corelie Barnard, and left July and the team leader, Deputy Prosecutor General Herman January, seriously injured.

The accident took place on March 28 on the road between Otjiwarongo and Otavi - "the same route which is traversed not only by myself but also by some members of the defence team on a weekly basis", Judge Hoff noted.

He mentioned that the court had been informed by Deputy Prosecutor-General Danie Small, who has stepped into the former prosecution team's shoes, that the State in essence has had to start from scratch to prepare for the continuation of the trial, and would only be ready by November 1.

Small also told the court at Grootfontein on May 17 that the rationale for asking for the trial to be moved to Windhoek was to try to minimise the risk of an event such as the fatal accident of March 28 repeating itself.

There was no real opposition from the defence to Small's application, the Judge added.

"It has been held that courts do not lightly or for unsubstantial reasons change the venue of a case," he stated.

"We are, however, dealing with an unusual case in respect of the number of charges preferred against the accused persons, the nature of those charges, the number of accused persons, the number of potential State witnesses and the number of defence counsel representing accused persons.

In this application, also, the reasons for adjourning the proceedings to Windhoek had been fully motivated and in my view have merit," he continued.

Judge Hoff concluded that it had been shown that it was necessary and expedient to postpone the trial and transfer proceedings to Windhoek.

The trial is to continue on November 1 in a hall on the grounds of the Windhoek Central Prison, the Judge ordered.

In the meantime, the hall will be furnished for the High Court's use.

The 120 accused men are to remain in custody, but bail will be considered once bail applications are actually before the court, Judge Hoff stated.


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