She Says She Killed Her Attempted Rapist in Self Defence. Now She’s on Trial For Murder

Tariro Matutsa was at home when a stranger burst in, exposed himself and charged towards her. Her murder charge has sparked a bitter debate how sexual assaults victims are further victimised by the legal system.
June 17, 2021, 4:52pm
File photo of pedestrians walking past a food shop in the central Zimbabwean town of Kadoma.
File photo of pedestrians walking past a food shop in the central Zimbabwean town of Kadoma. Photo: ZINYANGE AUNTONY/AFP via Getty Images

A 19-year-old woman in Zimbabwe has been charged with murder for killing a man she says was trying to rape her.

Tariro Matutsa from Mudzi, a district in northern Zimbabwe, was arrested after hitting Sure Tsuro, 40, with a piece of firewood on the night of the 7th of June. She says she struck Tsuro in self-defence.

Prosecutors accept the majority of Matutsa’s version of events: that she was seated alone at her fireplace at home when Tsuro, who she had no prior relationship with, entered the home and demanded sex. After rejecting his advances, Tsuro, according to a police report, “suddenly produced his erect penis and charged towards the accused person.” As he approached, Matutsa grabbed a piece of firewood and struck him several times across his body, and twice over the head. Tsuro died several hours later at a neighbour’s house.

The case hinges on whether the court accepts that the 19-year-old did not intend to kill her attacker and that she could not have taken any other reasonable action to protect herself.

Zimbabwe has a self-defence law that many believe is too vague and weak, and puts way too much discretionary power in the hands of the court. The law partly states that “if a person genuinely and on reasonable grounds, but mistakenly, believes that he or she is defending himself or herself or another person against an unlawful attack, he or she shall be entitled to a complete or partial defence…to any criminal charge.”

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"If the court believes it is self-defence, she will be charged with culpable homicide and we will push for a non-custodial sentence,” Lorraine Rubaya-Chinuwo, one of Matutsa's lawyers, told VICE World News.

Matutsa’s case has sparked a bitter debate across Zimbabwe about how victims of rape are further victimised by the police and the judiciary. A number of prominent women rights organisations and legal defence groups, including the Women and Law in Southern Africa (WLSA) and Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association (ZWLA), have joined forces to defend Matutsa.

On Wednesday, the WLSA legal team appeared at the High Court in Harare on her behalf to request bail pending trial – which was granted by High Court Judge Davison Foroma on condition that Matutsa reports to the police every two weeks and she remains at a fixed address in Mudzi.

“She purely acted in self-defence,” Fadzi Ruzive, a lawyer with WLSA told VICE World News before the hearing. “She did not have any intention to kill him. He wanted to rape her. She was alone at home, she could not cry for help.”

According to WLSA’s bail statement, seen by VICE World News, Matutsa maintains that she had no intention of killing Tsuro, but “to defend herself from the now-deceased who unlawfully entered into the house where she was seated and wanted to rape her.”

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Beatrice Mtetwa, a prominent human rights lawyer, says women like Matutsa suffer from a justice system that is ill-equiped to protect rape survivors.

“The weakness in the system is that only the court or the Prosecutor General can determine that one was acting in self-defence,” she told VICE World News. “Our justice system is patriarchal and judicial officers do not always understand how rape violates women and kills a part of them.”

According to Mtetwa, a type of local, informal justice has already occured as Matutsa’s family have been fined back in her village. “What is disturbing in Matutsa’s case is that the family she was living with has been charged three cows to be paid to the deceased's family and two cows and six goats to the Chief,” she said.

Sakhile Sifelani-Ngoma, executive director of Women in Politics Support Unit, a group that aims to increase women’s influence in creating policy, told VICE World News that there is a need for reforms in the country’s justice system to ensure both women and men get equal treatment under the law.

“The experiences of Matutsa in the criminal justice system continues to indicate why reform of the existing criminal justice system needs to do better to ensure equal treatment of the law for women in the processes of law enforcement and all the way to final adjudication,” she says.

This is not the first time that a woman has been arrested and charged with murder after killing their would-be rapist in self defence. In February 2016, Benhilda Dandajena, a mother of two, fatally stabbed her attacker with a kitchen knife. Dandajena was found guilty and sentenced to three years in prison, a year and half of which was suspended.

Matutsa will appear back in court next week.