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Mtetwa speaks out
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR)
December 03, 2013
she was found not guilty,
The Legal Monitor (LM) sat down with prominent human rights lawyer
Beatrice Mtetwa (BM), who is also the board chairperson of Zimbabwe
Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) to hear her views on the case.
What’s the feeling of being “free” again?
I feel relieved that I no longer have to go to court to defend myself
as opposed to defending my clients. The biggest losers of all this
have been my clients who have had to go to court without a lawyer
of their choice because I was busy defending myself.
I am relieved
that this madness has come to an end. But at the same time extremely
annoyed because for a period of eight months I was taken out of
circulation for no reason other than that I was doing my duty (when
I was arrested), all because it was a client whom the system does
It ought not
to have come to this. I should not have been arrested for doing
Why are you angry?
Because of my arrest, many other people have found it difficult
to get lawyers when they are facing certain charges.
the impact on lawyers has been to make them unavailable for certain
cases because they fear that what was done to Beatrice Mtetwa will
be done to them.
Lawyers have been under siege for doing their professional work
for quite some time now. What do you think should be done to stop
We all hoped that with the coming of a new Constitution
in May there would come an era where people would understand that
lawyers have a duty to represent all people, including those whose
causes are not popular with those who wield political power.
we have seen that lawyers continue being harassed for doing their
We have seen
an increase in attacks on lawyers in the course of their duties,
in judgments in circumstances where they cannot even speak for themselves
because they only become aware that they are a target when they
read the judgment.
That means for
me fewer and fewer lawyers will go to court because they fear being
We see that
the prosecuting authorities do not get the same kind of attacks.
You note that
even in cases where the State loses dismally, you do not get the
language we have seen reserved for lawyers in private practice,
particularly those who would be doing cases that are deemed political.
I find it unfortunate
that the courts do not look beyond the face of the person appearing
We have a right
as lawyers to operate freely without fear of being castigated by
the courts for representing clients.
And it is true
that there has been a chilling effect where lawyers are afraid to
represent certain personalities because of being identified with
the client’s cause.
You have mentioned the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).
Why do you think
it proceeded with your case which many from the onset said it was
a wild goose chase?
The NPA has been trying to get me for a long time.
I was not really
surprised when they persisted with the prosecution of the case even
in the face of the many contradictions that were apparent when the
first State witness testified.
That goal has
not been achieved, but they kept me out of circulation for a good
seven to eight months.
That is where
I have a problem with the judiciary.
I feel very
strongly that the language that is being used to castigate lawyers
is not being used to castigate prosecuting authorities who clearly
abuse their prosecuting powers to target certain lawyers and certain
For as long
as courts are not prepared to deal with the abuse of the prosecutorial
powers, the NPA can be said to be a new institution, but we know
that the people running it remain the same and we know that their
thinking has not changed at all.
So we know that
it is Mtetwa today, it will be another lawyer tomorrow and Mtetwa
again the following day.
This will continue
for as long as the NPA is allowed to do what it does with impunity.
You are the board chairperson of ZLHR. What have you done to pressure
authorities to stop the persecution of lawyers?
I think as members of ZLHR and to some extent the Law Society; we
have tried to lobby the authorities that lawyers do have a constitutional
space in the justice delivery system and should be allowed to exercise
their right within the law without being harassed.
not all lawyers speak with one voice.
unfortunately, celebrate when others get castigated. Unfortunately,
some lawyers are part of the problem.
If it is Mtetwa
today, the lawyer on the other side does not know that they could
be exactly in the same position tomorrow and they will not get protection.
After your arrest and during your trial, there were some attacks
on you that some felt bordered on xenophobia.
It was not just xenophobia. There was misogyny, there was anything
that you can think of.
There were articles
of me not being a proper daughter-in-law. I do not know what that
has anything to do with the practice of law.
Should I go
to court and ombera (clapping hands) to be a nice muroora (daughter-in-law)
when I am doing my professional work as a lawyer? No.
I was attacked
because I am a female who did not do the job the way females are
I was attacked
because I am Swazi-born despite the fact that I have lived in Zimbabwe
for more than 30 years.
I was attacked
as if I came in yesterday. The xenophobic attacks took a personal
life was dissected in all respects. Police were sent to look at
files that had nothing to do with the case; going to the Law Society
to see if my file had complaints from clients, going to the High
Court to look at my divorce files, going to my ex-husband to dish
out dirt on me, going to Zimra to see if I had smuggled anything
into the country.
What did that
have to do with the charge?
No doubt this
was targeted at putting my name in as much disrepute as they could.
It was shocking
that some of the xenophobic attacks came from people who have lived
in other countries without being harassed.
We have Zimbabweans
facing xenophobia in other countries, and one would expect Zimbabwe
not to fall into the same trap.
You had big
people who should have been concentrating on other issues than on
this little woman writing silly articles on me.
had five pages of nothing besides vitriol against me.
If as a country
this is how we are going to behave, then it is extremely unfortunate;
it means fewer and few women are going to participate in what would
make this country a better place for everybody.
You have been discharged as the 16 Days of activism against gender-based
violence gather momentum.
What do you
have to say?
At times one is tempted to say physical violence is better than
the unseen violence.
If people do
not see the injury on your face or any part of your body, they do
not think you have been violated.
It is meant
to destroy your self-esteem. It is meant to say to other women:
‘do not have these rights. If you venture into law the way
Mtetwa does, we will call you the names that we call Mtetwa’.
That is some
form of psychological violence. In Zimbabwe reputation counts, particularly
for females. Very few women will put themselves out there to be
castigated the way I was.
They do not
want to be portrayed in the manner I was portrayed.
can be no question on whether there was State-sanctioned psychological
violence against me which will impact on young women, particularly
young female lawyers.
You say your reputation has been soiled and you were exposed to
psychological torture; are you likely to pursue this issue by way
of a civil suit?
I am yet to sit with my legal team to see how we can handle it going
Any word to your lawyer Harrison Nkomo who has been with you since
Not just him; everyone at our law firm, colleagues in the civil
society and in the profession and many other Zimbabweans, including
newspaper vendors who celebrated when I was released on bail after
I would want
to say everything I went through paled into insignificance because
you showed me that it is a very tiny minority who want to tarnish
the image of this country.
of Zimbabweans are very wonderful people who can differentiate right
helped me see how wonderful Zimbabweans are.
And to the Prosecutor-General Johannes Tomana and his NPA team?
We have a judgment by the High Court which tries to explain what
the NPA ought to be. You win some, you lose some.
There is nothing
wrong in the NPA throwing in the towel as early as possible.
This case was
headed for where it is now after the first State witness.
The most professional
thing for the NPA to have done was to withdraw the charges instead
of persisting with what is a dead case.
this happens time and again. So to Mr Tomana; as he takes this position:
please give your juniors the professional right to determine how
their case goes in court.
It is easy for
a prosecutor in court to say: ‘this case is going nowhere’.
Do not force
prosecutors to continue with cases that are dead.
It is more professional
to lose with dignity than to lose with ridicule.
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