22nd April, 2007
MONICA Chabwera Phiri was killed on 22nd April, 2007. The sequence of events culminating in the murder and the attempted murder of her driver Benny Banda were so strange and dramatic that they could be scripted into a movie. The events paint a sordid picture of uncontained emotions and blatant disregard for human life. They unfolded like a melodrama of a fusion and explosion of love and hatred; a tale of naivety, deception, sweet talk and betrayal, but also as a story of phenomenal advances in communication technology and its impact on crime investigation in Zambia.
Monica Chabwera Phiri, a business woman suspected to have been in an illicit affair with Beatrice Hangwende’s husband, was, together with her driver, Ben Banda, abducted in tragicomic circumstances on 22nd April, 2007 around 18:30 hours. The setting: Flat NO.1,Weevel Court, Rhodes Park, Lusaka, the residence of the Beatrice Hangwende estranged husband.
Together with her driver, the deceased was bundled into her own Mercedez Benz saloon car, by three male adults and driven away to her death. They were trailed by an unregistered backup car driven by a male adult and carrying at least two female adults, as they were conveyed through the Great East Road and off it to some inconspicuous point in the Chisamba area. There, the deceased was shot three times in cold blood by one of the abductors on the orders of one of the women from the trailing backup car. The deceased’s lifeless body was left lying in a pool of blood in the bush, and her Mercedez Benz car was abandoned some twenty-one kilometers away from the scene, near a farm in Chisamba. An attempt to shoot Benny Banda was miraculously unsuccessful as he bravely wrestled and fought his way out of the assailants’ grip, amid a blazing gun, and ran away from the assailants into the bush, climbing in the process, a tree for safety; thanks to the altercation among the assailants as to whose turn it was to shoot him. Ben Banda survived the traumatic ordeal with nothing worse than a torn T-shirt, which remained at the scene, a lost left shoe and a gun.
Police would later arrest Beatrice Hangwende, her brother John Hangwende, a driver Charles Mwanza, hairdresser Jungwe Magula, Joseph Banda and a businesswoman Mary Moyo. The case generated considerable public interest. Crime investigators were put to a severe test. The public quite legitimately wanted to know who did the sordid deed.
Then after six years of trial, Beatrice Hangwende and her three co-accused were sentenced to death for murdering her husband’s lover Chabmoe Enterprises chief executive Monica Chabwera Phiri, while Mary Moyo was acquitted on account of insufficient evidence to implicate her. Jungwe Magula was given a lesser sentence of 15 years with hard labour.
Delivering a six-hour judgment, Judge Phiri said his hands were tied and could not exercise leniency or extenuating circumstances because of the manner in which the victim was murdered and how they later planned to murder Benny.
“The Judge said there was overwhelming evidence in the matter especially from the police officers tasked to investigate the matter saying in fact, they deserved to be promoted because they executed their duties diligently. He said he had never experienced such diligence executed by investigation officers in the matter who made his work easier after tracing all the mobile phone calls by the convicts and mapping their movements.
Mr Justice Phiri observed that from the evidence adduced by the prosecution witnesses, Beatrice was the initiator of the murder as she had been planning the death of Monica way back before she engaged her relatives to help her by first abducting her from her lover’s house and later drove her to Chisamba area where her body was dumped.