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This article participates on the following special index pages:

  • Index of articles on the mistreatment of the legal profession in Zimbabwe

  • Lawyer's protest march in Bulawayo
    David Coltart
    June 28, 2007

    Visit the special index page on the mistreatment of the legal profession in Zimbabwe

    In solidarity with a resolution, passed by the Law Society of Zimbabwe on the 13th June 2007, to close all law offices throughout Zimbabwe and to not attend court on the 27th June 2007, in protest against the recent attacks on and arrest of members of the legal profession, lawyers in Bulawayo were requested by the Law Society to gather at the High Court in Bulawayo at lunch time on Wednesday the 27th June 2007 and to march to the offices of the Governor of Bulawayo to present a petition. I participated in the march and this is my first hand account.

    When I arrived at the steps of the High Court I observed that there was a detachment of riot police standing on the steps. When I walked across to them I was advised that the march had been declared illegal and that I could not remain on the steps of the High Court. There were two other lawyers present and they advised me that other colleagues who had already been dispersed by the riot police had moved off down Herbert Chitepo Street towards the Governor's office and were trying to regroup a block away. I then walked down Herbert Chitepo Street with these 2 lawyers and we found the rest of our colleagues regrouped a block away from the High Court. Approximately 15 of us then commenced our march to the Governor's office but soon after starting to march we came under the close attention of Police vehicles including at least one Landrover from the "Law and Order" department of CID. These vehicles trailed us as we walked the 3 blocks to the Governor's office. On approaching the
    Governor's office we noticed a substantial contingent of riot police stationed outside the gate.

    As we arrived at the entrance the commanding officer of the detachment ordered them to spread out and stand at the ready with the shields raised and batons drawn. We were ordered to stop, told that our march was illegal and that we should disperse immediately and that failing that force would be used to break up our march. We then explained to the officer that we wanted to deliver a petition to the Governor protesting the attacks on and arrests of our colleagues in Harare. The officer was not interested and then called for reinforcements and again threatened us and ordered us to disperse. We noticed that further detachments of riot police and other policemen had arrived. After protesting again we asked the officer to take our petition to the Governor which he refused.

    We then decided to leave the petition at the feet of the officer as it was clear that we were not going to be let through the police barricade. Having done so we then turned to march back to the High Court. As we did so we were again ordered to disperse which we ignored. Shortly after that a further truck load of policemen of policemen arrived armed to the hilt with shotguns and high velocity FN rifles. After walking a block being trailed by this truck and other riot police we were stopped again, this time by the commander of the police truck. He told us that we had not dispersed and that if we did not do so immediately force would be used against us and that we would be assaulted.

    We once again ignored the order and walked a further block, almost as far as the High Court building. At this juncture we noticed further reinforcements arriving and having decided that we had made our point we then dispersed and went to our respective offices.

    I was very proud to be part of such a courageous group of lawyers. For those of you reading this not from Zimbabwe let me remind you that our march was not filmed by any TV station as there are no independent TV stations in Zimbabwe. Nor was it covered by any independent journalists as there are no independent daily newspapers left in the country. The march was also conducted in the full knowledge that not a single police officer has been prosecuted for all the offences they have committed over the last 7 years. During the last 7 years numerous unlawful assaults have been perpetrated by policemen against law abiding Zimbabweans who have been exercising their constitutional right to peaceably demonstrate. The march was also conducted in the knowledge that those policemen and women responsible for the vicious attack on Law Society President Beatrice Mtetwa a few weeks ago have not been arrested or prosecuted, nor will they be. In others words we all knew that the police act with complete impunity these days and the police themselves know that they have absolute licence to "bash" whomsoever they like as and as hard as they like.

    Accordingly the march was conducted in the knowledge that the police may well have used extreme force to break up the march and that what is more that there would be no-one present to record what had happened.

    Of course nearly all the lawyers who participated in the march yesterday have represented many exceptionally brave political and civic activists who have been demonstrating for years and who have been brutally assaulted and tortured by the police. To that extent the actions of this band of lawyers is not remarkable. However in the fluid state that Zimbabwe is in today it still required great courage for these lawyers to go beyond the relative security of their offices to stand in solidarity with others who have stood for their rights, and indeed the rights of all Zimbabweans, before them.

    It is of course pathetic that lawyers, who are after all officers of the High Court of Zimbabwe, were denied the right to gather on the steps of the High Court. But that is part and parcel of a police state where lawyers, courts and the law itself are just cumbersome appendages which can be disregarded or abused by the regime in power.

    I have one abiding memory of yesterday's events and that concerns the expressions on the faces of the riot police who formed the barricade outside the Governor's office. Although they were brandishing batons and undoubtedly could have inflicted great harm on us, when I looked into their eyes I saw no enthusiasm for what they had been ordered to do. In fact if I came away with any emotion it was one of pity. The officer in charge was hesitant in giving his orders and almost apologetic. Most of the men under his command were in tattered uniforms and many looked malnourished. When we avoided a violent confrontation they looked relieved and although they trailed us they were not menacing in anyway. The policemen in the reinforcement truck were menacing but it struck me that they were the core group of loyalists. It struck me that we are perhaps now up against a paper tiger; it seems to me that the regime is now protected by a thin veneer of die-hard loyalists but the vast majority of those in the police understand what is needed if their hopes for the future are to be realised: the current band of kleptomaniacs must be voted out of office.

    I was reminded yesterday of one of my favourite poems by Arthur Hugh Clough:

    SAY not the struggle naught availeth,
    The labour and the wounds are vain,
    The enemy faints not, nor faileth,
    And as things have been they remain.

    If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars;
    It may be, in yon smoke conceal'd,
    Your comrades chase e'en now the fliers,
    And, but for you, possess the field.

    For while the tired waves, vainly breaking,
    Seem here no painful inch to gain,
    Far back, through creeks and inlets making,
    Comes silent, flooding in, the main.

    And not by eastern windows only,
    When daylight comes, comes in the light;
    In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly!
    But westward, look, the land is bright!

    For all the depression that abounds in Zimbabwe today, for all the concern that this dreadful regime will continue in power for ever, I have the sense that the tide of popular opinion is silently flooding in and that this regime will soon find itself overwhelmed.

    Photographs of the march can be viewed on

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