Zim lawyer vows to fight on

2013-05-19 14:22
Beatrice Mtetwa (File, AFP)

Beatrice Mtetwa (File, AFP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Special Report

I won't protect corrupt officials, says Mugabe
I won't protect corrupt officials, says Mugabe

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has said that he won't be protecting any government officials accused of corruption, adding that those accused of graft must, however, be given a chance to answer for their crimes in a court of law, reports say.

Johannesburg - As Zimbabwe approaches watershed elections, a renowned lawyer at the forefront of defending human rights activists, vowed never to give up - even after her own arrest earlier this year.

Beatrice Mtetwa spoke to journalists in Johannesburg Friday at the screening there of a film about her fight for the rule of law in Zimbabwe.

Mtetwa was arrested in March when she went to represent clients during a raid of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's office. But she has refused to buckle under in the face of intimidation.

She remains optimistic of change in Zimbabwe, a southern African country that has shifted from being a jewel of the continent to an international pariah during President Robert Mugabe's 33-year rule.

Mtetwa's arrest for obstructing justice, a day after the country held a constitutional referendum in March, sparked international condemnation.

She is hopeful that one day she will work under normal conditions in Zimbabwe.

Things will change

"Things will change in Zimbabwe, whether for the better or worse, we don't know, " said the 55-year-old internationally recognised lawyer.

She holds out hope in the new constitution, which is expected to be signed into law by Mugabe soon.

"We are hoping that maybe the new constitution gives everyone a wake-up call. It has good clauses. If interpreted properly, it should bring change."

Her arrest came after Zimbabweans voted overwhelmingly for the new constitution that is to enshrine civil rights and pave the way for a new government.

"I want to be able to just practice normal law like other lawyers. I do believe that historically things like these do come to an end," she said.

While her arrest came as a "surprise", she insists it did not dampen her spirits. Instead her eight days behind bars offered valuable first-hand insight into the conditions inside Zimbabwe's prisons.

Prison life

"It gave me a personal experience. I actually think every so-called human rights lawyer should go into prison and experience things," Mtetwa told AFP.

She is planning to launch a constitutional case challenging the "inhuman" conditions in prisons.

Inmates were locked in a cell with no access to toilets for 15 hours between 15:30 and 06:30 the following morning, she said.

"It's completely degrading," said Mtetwa, who said she spent her time in the cells offering free legal advice to female inmates awaiting trial.

The hour-long documentary - Beatrice Mtetwa & the rule of law compiled by Harvard University's former Nieman fellows, captures the life of the Swaziland-born attorney and some of the cases she has defended in her two-decade career.

"Unlike a lot of other dictators, Robert Mugabe doesn't just go out and do what he wants," Mtetwa says in the film. "He first goes to parliament and passes a law and says it's now legal to punch somebody in the nose."


Zimbabwe's former information minister Johathan Moyo says in the film, "All countries are ruled by men and women, and the law becomes what they say it is."

Film producer and director Boston-based Lorie Conway said Mtetwa had lived under a "mutilated rule of law and she is the consequence of what happens when rights are abridged".

Mtetwa, a mother of two and the oldest daughter of more than 50 children by her polygamous father, said her school teacher back in Swaziland had encouraged her to press on in life as she had potential to do great things.

Asked about the rule of law in Zimbabwe, Mtetwa cited the case of high court judge Charles Hungwe who angered authorities by ordering her release after she was arrested.

"The harassment of justice Hungwe says everything there is to say about the rule of law in Zimbabwe. He gives two orders that are unpopular with certain powerful persons... and now he is ...being hounded out of the bench."

Her problems with the authorities did not start recently, she says. In 2003, she was beaten up by police during an arrest.

Lost clients

She recounts how she has lost corporate clients who feared being associated with an outspoken lawyer.

Her personal safety is a source of concern, but she says she will not be paranoid about it.

"I know there are dangers involved. I will not deliberately put myself in the line of fire, but I am not going to stop living a life."

She returns to court on 27 May for her latest case.

Asked to comment on the timing of the release of the film just months before the crucial general elections, Zimbabwean journalist and co-producer Hopewell Chin'ono said a documentary on Mtetwa had been on the cards for several years.

"We are just story-telling and it's part of what we do everyday."

Read more on:    robert mugabe  |  beatrice mtetwa  |  zimbabwe  |  southern africa

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.


24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.