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Lawyers ready to fight Mnangagwa's govt

by Staff reporter
13 Dec 2021 at 02:11hrs | Views
THE Law Society of Zimbabwe (LSZ) says it will face down threats from government, and a court case that could strip it of regulatory powers in a case analysts say has wider implications for other perceived opponents of the administration.

Last week, government accused the LSZ of hobnobbing with the West, and pursuing a sinister agenda, but the lawyers say they were being targeted for being strong critics of President Emmerson Mnangagwa's government over worsening human rights abuses.

Additionally, a lawyer, Joshua Chirambwe, made a High Court application challenging a law that made the body the sole regulator of the legal profession.

The Harare lawyer is seeking a declaratory relief, arguing that sections 58, 64 and 65(1) to (5) of the Legal Practitioners Act were invalid and in violation of the Constitution.

But LSZ president Wellington Magaya last Friday told the Walter Kamba Rule of Law Lecture and awards ceremony in Harare that the legal fraternity was under siege in the country.

Respected South African professor of law and former Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela, was the keynote speaker at the event.

"The very foundations of our existence as a profession are being tested, and we are certain we will overcome. To those who are after our right to self-regulate, let them be reminded that we will not allow anyone to take this away from us without a good fight," Magaya said.

"They are labouring under the misconception that if self-regulation is taken away from us, we will stop to speak out about human rights and the rule of law. We will continue to do that, in whatever form or organisation that we can."

Zimbabwe has been ranked poorly in terms of human rights issues, with the Mnangagwa administration accused of serious violations in silencing its critics.

Observers say Mnangagwa is targeting organisations that expose rights violations, including those of doctors, nurses, teachers, and now lawyers.

Magaya said Kamba and his now-deceased luminaries would be turning in their graves given the situation the legal fraternity finds itself in because of government threats.

"The man we gather to honour today, and many others of his generation would be turning in their graves as the profession they so loved faces grave threats to its existence.

"Our choice of keynote speaker today could not have been more prophetic to the grim situation we, at the LSZ, face today. Her tenacity to stand up to adversity is what the Law Society and the profession needs in Zimbabwe today. We will draw inspiration from her as we move forward."

Magaya said the LSZ was aware of the need for reform and aligning the Legal Practitioners Act to the Constitution.

"But we remain concerned by attacks on the profession and the regulatory framework, which for a lifetime have remained the bedrock upon which our integrity is anchored. Our systems are intact and we are as confident as ever that they will stand the test of time. Your profession is in good hands," he said.

"It is a time we have consistently set aside to remind each other of our obligations to keep this profession on track, to refocus our mindset as well as commit to the ideal that the great Walter Kamba lived by, the ideals that made him a stickler for the rule of law, democracy and good governance.

"The ideals of an independent profession that stood as a voice of reason in a country that continues to trudge from one crisis to another, decades after his death. Our generation lives in extraordinary times, but even then, there are events that just cannot be forgone. This annual gathering has to go on even in the face of such adversity as we face today."

Chirambwe's application to challenge the LSZ as the sole regulator for lawyers was last week celebrated by Mnangagwa's spokesperson George Charamba, who warned the lawyers that "something was brewing".

In June this year, Charamba threatened to unleash security agents on the lawyers' body, alleging that it was being bankrolled by "white law firms" that were against government.

Magaya said the LSZ would oppose Chirambwe's application.

The application also came as Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi recently accused the LSZ of meddling in politics, and of taking orders from hostile foreign nations after it challenged the controversial manner in which Mnangagwa extended the term of office of Chief Justice Luke Malaba.

Political analyst Rashweat Mukundu said the case showed that Mnangagwa was bent on entrenching his control of the narrative.

"What is happening is consistent with erosion of civil liberties in Zimbabwe and the lack of respect for independent institutions. It is a completion of takeover of not only State institutions, but even independent institutions under the Mnangagwa administration," he said.

"These are the makings of dictatorship that silences everyone and seeks to control everything and targeting those with contrary views."

United Kingdom-based lawyer Alex Magaisa said the attacks by government and the court case were "a very well-calculated political move".

"The issue of the regulation of lawyers is a policy issue, which ideally should be handled by policymakers. In other words, government should be able to carry out a policy inquiry into the issue of regulation of professions," he said.

"In my opinion, if government wants to reform the regulation of lawyers, then it needs to do so through a proper process of consultation with the profession, with the consumers and other interested stakeholders, and then come up with a wider paper and position which can then be debated through the proper channels of Parliament."

Magaisa said there was nothing wrong with a citizen who was aggrieved by a particular position to go to a court of law and challenge the status quo.

"It appears to me it is a case of a tortoise on a fence post. It did not get there on its own. Someone placed it there. It is not dissimilar to other cases where government does not want to be seen to be taking a position, in this case against a profession, and it then finds a scheme to do it in the courts of law," he said.

Magaisa said the bigger political agenda was to try and regulate the legal profession, adding that government wanted to do that on the basis of a legal determination by the courts of law.

"It is cowardly for it to try to do that because if it wants to do proper reforms, it can do that. It will be interesting to see how the courts deal with that, and after all, the courts are manned by lawyers themselves, who are potential members of the LSZ," he said.

"For me, the political agenda stinks and there is a clear political agenda here to try and dismantle and dismember (the LSZ), and have a way that will allow the government to have greater control of the legal profession."

Source - NewsDay Zimbabwe