Zimbabwe: Lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa, impassive in the face of power

Beatrice Mtetwa speaks to her fellow lawyers during a protest against rule of law concerns in Harare, 29 January 2018 | Photo: The AP

She is tall as three apples and fears no one. With the next presidential election just months away, Beatrice Mtetwa, Zimbabwe’s best-known human rights lawyer and itchy bitch of authoritarian rule, refuses to be intimidated.

Is she sometimes afraid of being targeted by reprisals, violence, in this southern African country where they are not uncommon? “I’m not doing anything illegal,” she replies, falsely calm, during an interview with AFP.

As if her systematic opposition to shenanigans, the incorruptible and demanding face that she opposes to each abuse, could not bring her any problem. “I’m only respecting the oath I took,” she insists, face closed, under tension.

Short hair and high cheekbones in a round face, this 64-year-old black woman, elegant dress and row of pearls, has nevertheless already been arrested, beaten up, she even spent eight days in prison a few years ago.

But she continues to file a complaint, plead and appeal, when fear has silenced many of her colleagues.

“I am building up a body of cases that will allow us later to investigate in depth the dysfunctions of the judicial system, to ensure that this does not happen again”, she explains, referring to a “captured” third power. , entirely subject to the executive.

“I may not see this in my lifetime,” she says without illusions as the presidential election approaching in August and which the Zanu-PF, in power since independence in 1980, intends to win. .

She denies doing politics. But denounces a corrupt system to the core, where justice is done according to partisan loyalties.

“Regularly, people are no longer released on bail, unless they are aligned with Zanu-PF.” And in the first instance, “you would have a hard time finding any judge capable of saying that the arguments of the prosecution, when it is the State, are weak”.

In the first instance, political defendants systematically appear before the same judges and have no chance of being released on bail. Beatrice Mtetwa is still appealing. Because at this level, “the judges are assigned in turn” so there may be a little room for manoeuvre.

For her, “what is painful is that the judiciary should fight tooth and nail to maintain its independence”. But “half the time”, she says, “I don’t even think that politicians make a phone call to influence a judgment”: it is the judges who anticipate their wishes.

She cites the fate of opposition deputy Job Sikhala, loved by the common people of the capital, and in prison for almost 300 days for a political speech qualified as “incitement to violence”. He will not come out before the election: “They want him in the shadows, so that he cannot be a candidate”.

The campaign is “probably going to be a bloodbath,” she predicts. Already opposition meetings are hampered, with officials, including MPs, “arrested in their own homes” on the pretext of an illegal meeting. And those who call for violence “or even the murder” of opponents “are not worried”, she laments.

Repression is tougher than under Robert Mugabe, the country’s strongman for 37 years. After the 2017 coup, “we pretended to take another direction”, presenting the new president Emmerson Mnangagwa “as more able to understand the problems”. But, she believes, he was quickly “affected by the heat of the seat of power”.

So why is the lawyer, eldest of fifty children of a polygamous father from neighboring Swaziland (today Eswatini, editor’s note), fighting?

“Because you can’t say a system is rotten” from the outside without getting your hands dirty, she says. “I am going to court. This is where my skills are needed,” she adds stubbornly.

And also because some clients would not find a lawyer to defend them. “They say they choose me because I won’t be intimidated or bought off. They believe that I will never compromise on my principles,” she says.

“You have to believe that I was never offered a good price”, ironically launches the passionaria, bursting out laughing.

Source: Africanews