By Tendai Chabvuta
In politics there are hard and soft issues that at times become cause for heated debates for ruling and opposition parties alike as well as their supporters.
The hard issues have a bearing on the immediate concerns of the party and in Zimbabwe for example these could concern whether a party like the MDC should accept an election result or not.
The soft issues relate to matters that occasionally come up but are not necessarily detrimental to the survival of a political party. These issues unless handled properly have the potential though to erode the support base of the party.
One such matter, is the issue of whether MDC senior leaders that are lawyers can represent in court, current or former members of the ZANU PF party without damaging the brand that is the MDC as well as hemorrhaging their support and trust with their supporters.
Arguments for and against the issue have been debated before. The issue is quite vexing but still needs to be dissected further.
The argument in this discussion explores the two opposing views, explores the possible reasons why the lawyers who are leaders in the MDC carry out such tasks, and the possible resultant effect on their membership and credibility as a party in waiting to lead Zimbabwe.
A case of misplaced priorities
Increasingly over the years and especially after the 2017 coup in Zimbabwe, there was a huge fallout in ZANU PF that saw several big leaders in the G40 faction of ZANU PF being put on the spotlight by the Mnangagwa regime.
Reportedly several cases of corruption, abuse of office, embezzlement were raised against those who were thought to be supporting Robert and Grace Mugabe. Most have been dragged to court and their cases remain with pending judgments. Interestingly, the unexpected has also happened.
Those lawyers who are leaders in the MDC have jumped in to defend these same ZANU PF people. The argument has been that as lawyers they have a duty to serve anyone who needs legal assistance. A corollary excuse has been that the MDC is a party that must show that it fights for justice and democracy.
By defending these former ZANU PF senior leaders they would be fighting to also expose a corrupt judicial system, challenging a rogue regime that arrests and detains people on spurious charges etc. At face value, this argument sounds logical, but underneath it lies an ugly veneer of a quest for power, greed for legal fees and a sheer display of a leadership that has misplaced priorities.
Has Zimbabwe now run short of lawyers as well?
There are thousands of lawyers who can represent these ZANU PF people with equally the same expertise other than the MDC leaders who are lawyers. These lawyers in the MDC cannot speak left and walk right.
For decades the call by the MDC has been against corruption, looting of state resources, egregious human rights violations perpetrated by some of the ZANU PF politicians who are now represented by these MDC officials.
If the legal defense of these former and current ZANU PF officials is not a show of misplaced priorities and a show of the middle finger to the millions of MDC supports who have been brutalized, tortured and stolen from by ZANU PF then there must be another more befitting definition for the word.
What has changed with the so called captured judicial system?
For years, the cry from the opposition has always been that the judicial system in Zimbabwe is captured by the military and politicians and thus can never deliver objective as well as fair decisions especially in political matters.
There are innumerable cases in point, from the recent 2018 elections rigging case, to the thousands of MDC supporters who have been unlawfully arrested and detained and more importantly the thousands more who the government has denied compensation for human rights violations.
Come 2018/2019, the script has changed and the same MDC leaders who are lawyers are scurrying and stampeding each other to represent the same folks they called crooks, thieves, murderers etc. To make it worse they go to the same courts they have vilified before.
The question that begs the answer is why these lawyers in the MDC think that they will be able to get fairer and objective judgments in the cases involving these former and current ZANU PF officials who now stand accused of corruption, abuse of office and other crimes?
The system with its judges, prosecutors, and any other cog in its wheel remains intact. One would want to believe that the lawyers in the MDC who have been defending these rogue ZANU PF leaders are myopic, ill-advised and frankly do not know what they are doing. Principle must tell them to leave ZANU PF to fight its factional wars on their own and that they as the MDC focus on the more important business of lawfully dislodging ZANU PF from power.
Possible explanations as to why the lawyers represent the ZANU PF leaders in court
They are in it for the money
Let us face it, the money that comes from some of these high-profile cases is quite high. Zimbabwe is in an economic mess and incomes are low for most professionals.
The so called, clients who are former ZANU PF leaders have bags and a half full of money stashed away – our taxes for that matter.
While it is fact that these lawyers will be doing their jobs so that they can earn a living, a line should be drawn at a party and personal level as to what sort of clients these lawyers can represent. Imagine Barack Obama representing Osama Bin Laden in a court of law as his legal counsel!
The desperate need to get closer to power
Instead of speaking truth to power, these same lawyers have an insatiable need to be seen to close to power. For them, they see power residing within ZANU PF and they must get closer to it by way of representing these high-profile people who have fallen out of favor with ZANU PF.
For the ordinary lawyer and MDC leader, getting closer to this power base in ZANU PF ensures that they might get deals, contracts and a “turn to eat” at the corruption table. As a bonus, the lawyer will have tales to tell about how they fought ZANU PF and how they defended those that had been banished from the party etc. It is all delusional, but in today’s Zimbabwe, this logic can surely resonate with a lot of people.
What the lawyers tell us
It’s part of the democratic struggle
Half the time you hear people pontificating, arguing and misquoting philosophers such as Sun Tzu or Confucius. You will hear them saying “to defeat your enemy you need to bring them closer to you”. In this instance, it however would be the biggest scam of the century.
The lawyers who are in the MDC representing these ZANU PF officials think that they can create further chasms in ZANU PF but nothing can be further from the truth. ZANU PF officials differ on issues of who is “eating” and not necessarily on the destruction of the party.
The question that begs answers is whether this position of giving legal support is an agreed one from the party or it emanates from individuals engaged in haphazard ways with a twisted notion that they will contribute to dislodging ZANU PF from power. Whichever way, the belief that ZANU PF can be dislodged or even destroyed by some of these acts is infantile.
The message to the lawyers in the MDC leadership
The people will fail to tell the difference between ZANU PF and MDC at this rate
The lawyers in the MDC leadership can be adamant with their actions because they believe they are doing the right thing. They can believe all they want that they are following their conscience and exercising their duties as legal professionals. However, they must not forget that the same people that they are now helping to dodge court hearings, feigning illnesses, hiding their properties etc.
were the same perpetrators of political and state sponsored violence against their supporters, vote rigging and other heinous acts of grand corruption in Zimbabwe. If the lawyers want to continue wining and dining with these former and current ZANU PF leaders they can do so at their own peril politically. The masses that support the MDC might not be able to tell the difference between these two groups in the end. One can be rest assured that the MDC will lose its supporters if the people do not think that its officials are not any different from their tormentors. Food
Is this an official MDC strategy?
The question that begs answers remains. The idea of representing the likes of Kasukuwere, Mzembi and others? – Is it a consensus within the party leadership or individual members in the leadership of the MDC who are also lawyers decided to take up the cases? It would be folly for the MDC to think that they can continue on this path without at least confusing the party faithful as well as be seen to be mocking them through such actions.
ZANU PF – a leopard that will never change its spots
One shortsighted argument posited by those who support the lawyers in the MDC who defend the ZANU PF officials is that by being close to them they will be able to get more information as well possibly convert them to joining the MDC.
While it is an attractive idea, the thought of an MDC led government that then depends on thugs, murderers, thieves, central bank robbers etc. as its allies does not augur well.
Even if the MDC were to win an election, where would those people fit in any government that would be credible. Zimbabwe will have to implement a transitional justice policy of sorts. The MDC cannot act as if it is oblivious of these facts. In any case, already the signs are clear. The G40 elements have been regrouping and they have registered their own party. Who in the MDC really knows what pact these people will sign with ZANU PF in the end?
These lawyers can focus on more useful matters affecting the nation and party members
The lawyers in the MDC leadership have their hands full already by default. Instead of sending the wrong message by jumping onto the gravy train that defines ZANU PF’s corrupt legacy and way of governance, they could keep themselves busy through pursuing other more meaningful legal causes. There are several breaches of the constitution by the current government that these lawyers could take pro bono and challenge the government to desist from perpetuating and correct.
Closer to home, it is a known fact that millions of people lost their pensions and hard-earned income through the near Ponzi schemes of currency manipulation run the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe in the 2000s. While there was a pseudo process of compensating those who had money in the banks it never reached the majority of victims.
The Pensions Conversion Commission set to deal with the matter involving pensioners was swept under the carpet after companies balked and refused to give evidence to the Commissioners. There are hundreds of laws that are not aligned to the new constitution.
A true party of the people would call itself to order, prioritize and take up causes that are beneficial to its cause. A party of the people would stop engaging in actions that seem to be spitting in peoples’ faces especially those in its rank and file who have suffered the heavy brunt of ZANU PF’s misgovernance.
Continuing on a path of representing ZANU PF former and current officials in a manner as has been shown in the recent past does not send the right picture and erodes the brand of the MDC. There can be no excuse for such blunders.
Tendai Chabvuta lives in Harare. He is a former Chevening Scholar and researches on human rights law and transitional justice. Follow him on @Chabvuta