THE Lusaka High Court has slapped a 12 months jail term on a coxswain of the boat on which six Seventh Day Adventist youths jumped off and died on New Year’s Day. Judge Kenneth Mulife said he had to impose a custodial sentence on Jonathan Hajaaya, 25, because he was negligent by moving into deep waters before the deceased swimmers disembarked from the fishing rig.
This is in a case Hajaaya, fishermen Osborne Mambo and Tyson Hachiyako were charged with manslaughter in connection with the drowning of six SDA youths in Siavonga.
On January 1 this year, Haajaya, Mambo and Hachiyako allegedly caused the death of Goodson Hamaila, Rodwell Chileshe, Ronald Libuku, Zebron Shikambo, Niza Muchiliba and Allan Mwaanga all of Lusaka.
The victims drowned on Lake Kariba after they allegedly jumped off the fishing rig, which Haajaya was in charge of. The youths were using the vessel’s surface to stand on before jumping into the waters from a swim. After witnesses testified, the accused were found with a case to answer and were placed on defence.
But in defence, Haajaya narrated that on a material day, there were about 25 people who were jumping on the vessel and diving into the water, an expedition which took place for about 20 minutes.
Haajaya said when he started the engine, the people who were playing on the rig jumped off after he asked them to disembark.
He refuted allegations that he started off the journey without alerting the victims.
In his judgement yesterday, Judge Mulife convicted Hajaaya on account that he acted negligently by sailing into deep waters despite the presence of swimmers on the boat.
“Upon seeing swimmers on the boat, accused number one [Hajaaya] should have avoided dragging the boat into the deeper waters,” Judge Mulife said.
But he also found that there was contributory negligence on the part of the deceased because despite the boat moving slowly, they never vacated until it sailed into deep waters.
“The deceased persons also contributed to their misfortune, they acted negligently. I am of the view that it would be unfair for me to send you [Hajaaya] to jail for a long period of time,” Judge Mulife said.
“On the other hand, I note that the offence you committed is serious, numerous lives have been lost which would not have been lost,” Judge Mulife before sentencing Hajaaya to one year imprisonment in all six counts but to run concurrently.
He, however, acquitted the other two accused for lack of evidence.
Earlier, defence lawyer Melissa Tatila urged the court to exercise lenience on Hajaaya because he first offender who was remorseful for his actions. Ms Tatila said considering the circumstances of the case and thw court havjng found that there was negligence on the part of the decreased “a first offender ought to be given maximum leniency”.
But the judgment did not sit well with family members of the deceased who were leaving the court visibly upset.
“12 months? No. Its too little. These people mever even contributed anything towards funerals of the deceased,” a woman said.
Some other relatives said they will consider appealing against the “unfair” judgement.
And guardians of the two men who were acquitted thanked God for the release of thier relatives.