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Slain ZAF officer’s family awarded K3.3mn damages

THE Lusaka High Court has awarded the family of slain Zambia Air Force flight sergeant Mark Choongwa K3,300,000 as damages for loss of his life.

Choongwa’s administrators, Chilala and his widow Esther Choongwa, had sued the Attorney General and six police officers; Chief Inspector Veronica Lucy Shawa, constables Mike Kapale and Mable Mwita, reserve constables Lyton Mwale, James Ngulube and Joseph Kasongo, seeking a declaration and order that the detention of the deceased was wholly unlawful.

They were further seeking damages for the unlawful deprivation of his life as a result of the defendants’ disproportionate and excessive use of force against the deceased, damages for loss of expectation of life and future earnings, among other claims.

Lusaka High Court deputy registrar Katrina Walubita in her judgment on assessment dated November 11, 2019 has awarded K3.3 million to Choongwa’s family for loss of life, funeral expenses, damages for dependency and exemplary damages.

Registrar Walubita has indicated that the police owe a duty of care to all people under their custody and nothing justifies brutality of that nature.

She noted that it was not in dispute that the deceased died as a result of the injuries inflicted by the defendants whilst in their custody, adding that his estate was entitled to recover damages for loss of expectation of life and for funeral expenses.

Registrar Walubita awarded the deceased’s family damages for loss of life in the sum of K250,000 and K50,000 for funeral expenses and K3,000,000 for dependency and exemplary damages.

Registrar Walubita noted that there was no need to detain Chhongwa in the first place as he committed a minor traffic offence, which could have just attracted a fine.

She said that there was no justification for beating Choongwa to death.

“The deceased was 34 years old at the time of death and earning a net income of K6,200 per month. The position he held had prospects of promotion. The deceased was survived by a wife and infant children. Assuming the deceased would have worked up to 55 years he would have earned K6,200 per month for another 21 years. Based on this, I award K2,000,000 under this head,” Walubita said.

“The police owe a duty of care to all people under their custody and nothing justifies brutality of that nature. The behavior of the defendants warrants the award of exemplary damages and I accordingly award the plaintiffs K1,000,000.”

She directed that all damages awarded to Choongwa’s family shall attract interest of the average short-term deposit rate from the date of issue of writ until judgment, and thereafter, at the Bank of Zambia lending rate until payment.

Choongwa’s family was further awarded costs to be taxed in default of agreement and granted leave to appeal.

The court on May 7, 2018 entered judgment on admission against the defendants and on December 10, 2018, Choongwa’s administrator and his widow applied for assessment of damages pursuant to order 37 of the Rules of the Supreme Court.

Sergeant Choongwa was in March 2017 around midnight involved in a minor road traffic accident at Chukums Pub in Lusaka’s Nyumba Yanga residential area.

The accident happened as he was reversing his motor vehicle and slightly hit into a statutory vehicle belonging to Sarudzai Mulendema who was the complainant who is believed to be a police officer.

Choongwa and Mulendema engaged in discussions on how the damage would be repaired but they could not reach a consensus on the matter. An unknown police officer in paramilitary uniform who was passing by was called to help in resolving the matter but efforts proved futile.

Later, the complainant called for reinforcement from Woodlands Police Station and Kapale in the company of Mwale and Ngulube were sent to the scene of the minor traffic accident.

Officers from Woodlands Police could not resolve the matter but instead made the situation tense and they forcefully bundled Choongwa into his own vehicle and drove him to the police station and detained in police cells.

At the police station, the flight sergeant was violently assaulted by six to eight police officers, including the defendants who were cited for causing his death.

Following the beating, Choongwa collapsed and was pronounced dead upon arrival at University Teaching Hospital (UTH).

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