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Lawyer politicians should choose whether they want to be lawyers or politicians

By Hopewell Chin’ono

Zimbabwean lawyer-politicians in the opposition MDC yelp on about their ethics and what the law says when we raise the issues around the morality of representing “clients” in ZANUPF charged with corruption.

Hopewell Chin'ono
Hopewell Chin’ono

Tendai Biti represented Gideon Gono and yet he had colourfully characterized him as an “…Al-qaeda terrorist who deserved to be put before a firing squad.”

MDC Chitungwiza Member of Parliament, Job Sikhala, represented Walter Mzembi, again on corruption charges, the list goes on.

Their argument is that doing so is legal and within their ethics code of conduct.

They forget that Apartheid was legal, slavery was legal too and colonialism was legal too, the question is were they just?

Another Zimbabean lawyer David Hofis put it aptly when he said that, “…lawyers have every right to represent a client who is politically disagreeable – and society has a corresponding right to judge them for it if they have spoken otherwise regarding the subject matter for which their client is charged.”

Hofisi added, “…those are big questions, though in politics the court of public opinion tends to be more effective, so exposing them…is part of the solution.”

What lawyers were taught in school can be challenged, society evolves, it was a human being who came up with all these things that lawyers hold dear to and use to try and shut us down when we reflect on this moral duplicitous and grand hypocrisy.

The human being who came up with that assortment of ethics was possibly a greedy one too.

Constitutions change across the world because a time would have come when they cease to serve the prevailing realities of the time.

It was the same law and legal architects who saw value in saying that Slavery was legal, it was them too who came up with some of this antiquated reasoning that lawyers now call ethics, which they use to scaffold their arguments to underpin the moral fault lines in their practice.

Here is my short argument that I want Zimbabwean lawyer-politicians to address thoughtfully, we already know what their law books say, and so they should address it thoughtfully.

I have NO problem with for instance Nelson Chamisa representing a ZANUPF minister in a trial about someone who didn’t adhere to a business transaction with that ZANUPF cabinet minister.

That is a legitimate legal case for Chamisa to take on as a lawyer and we are all agreed on that.

I however have issues with Nelson Chamisa telling me day and night that Joram Gumbo is a corrupt politician and that Gumbo’s corruption is the source of my financial problems.

A Nelson Chamisa who tells me daily that all my relatives who died at Parirenyatwa Hospital because of lack of drugs were the victims of Gumbo’s corruption.

Then when Gumbo is charged by the very same state that Chamisa has been accusing of inaction and inertia all along regarding corruption, the very same Chamisa now decides to represent Gumbo in a court of law where he bellows wearing those funny wigs, “NO, Gumbo is not corrupt after all.”

That to me is morally bankrupt, a total act of deceit that reflects a broken moral compass!

More so when Chamisa is drawing a salary from parliament where he is arguing that Gumbo is a corrupt man and on that basis, he is building his political career.

That salary paid by the taxpayer is being drawn on account of his argument that he is an alternative to the thieving and corrupt government which includes Gumbo.

No amount of Cab Ranking can justify that duplicitous behavior, and NO amount of “…that is what the law says” can make that reasonable in the minds and eyes of sane men and women.

Chamisa is not the only lawyer in town, there are thousands of lawyers who are not conflicted by that political moral argument because they don’t have a second PAID job in parliament paid by the taxpayer where they preach chapter and verse about the evils of corruption.

They should represent Joram Gumbo who by the way is a mere example in this argument, so is my brother Chamisa.

Someone tried to guilt shame me when I used Beatrice Mtetwa as an example of an attorney who has turned down briefs where she felt morally conflicted.

Beatrice Mtetwa has spoken about these issues in lectures around the world in universities as a visiting professor, so I have a right to legitimately quote from such lectures.

But to show the quality of discourse that some of our local lawyers bring to the table when we raise these legitimate issues, a lawyer called Nunudzai Masunda responded to my argument by saying and I quote:
“Pliz take your tongue out of Beatrice’s butt-hole @Hopewell Chin’ono. Once you do that your vision and understanding of how lawyers work will clear up.”

This is the quality of responses that we get from some of our local lawyers when we raise legitimate issues of the moral maze between the law and morality.

I have spoken to many senior partners at Harare’s law firms who have turned down cases or briefs as they are known.

They told me that they say they are busy or they actually say that they are conflicted or that they do not have the expertise to do the brief and even suggest another law firm which could take it on.

A lawyer has NO technical obligation to take on a case from someone knocking on the door, unless it is an existing client.

Anyone who denies that is a bogus lawyer who does not deserve to represent anyone in a court of law, they are dishonorable because they hide behind archaic texts in order to deny the reality of what happens everyday in law firms.

Any lawyer arguing this point should read literature on George Carman, one of the leading British barristers of the 20th century.

I simply mentioned Beatrice Mtetwa by name because she has spoken about it publicly when receiving her PhD given to her in honor of her services to the legal fraternity and human rights law.

A lawyer who has made a name representing victims of sexual harassment and violence can’t suddenly be seen representing Harvey Weinstein, unless if they are some small town growth point lawyer which folks like Tendai Biti are not.

Tendai Biti is a beast in the court of law, a proven able and outstanding legal eagle, with that should come some degree of moral responsibility towards his other profession of politics.

Hiding behind legal ethics to me sounds like an act of cowardice and greedy, he didn’t have to represent Gideon Gono in that specific case and we all know that to be true, he knows it too.

What happens if Gono or Gumbo is convicted of that corruption case and Biti or Chamisa are paid using the proceeds of those corruption acts?

Do we still hide behind the rules and regulations of the legal fraternity and the now famous Cab Ranking rule?

We need lawyers who exercise their minds in defense of common sense not shady stuff that has been made legal and merely not challenged!

Law is after all supposed to be about common sense and not what some old fart said two centuries ago when it was legal to make people of color slaves.

You can’t seriously make a career of telling the whole country that ZANU PF and its ministers are a corrupt lot then when the law is thrown at them you expect me to be fine with you getting them off the hook.

Saying so is conceptual BS and it assumes that people do not have the ability to think.

Now let us hear what the lawyer-politicians have to say in their learned defence.

Hopewell Chin’ono is an award winning Zimbabwean international Journalist and Documentary Filmmaker. He is a Harvard University Nieman Fellow and a CNN African Journalist of the year.

He is also a Fellow at the University of Oxford’s Africa leadership Institute.
Hopewell has a new documentary film looking at mental illness in Zimbabwe called State of Mind, which was launched to critical acclaim.

State of Mind has been nominated for a top award in Kenya. You can watch the documentary trailer below. Hopewell can be contacted at [email protected] or on Twitter @daddyhope