By Gracious Madondo
Legal experts and independent observers have hailed Zimbabwe's judiciary and the lawyers representing various parties in the recent Constitutional Court presidential poll petition for the exceptional skills that were on display for a global audience during the live broadcasting by the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC).
Legal experts applauded the approval by the Chief Justice to have the court proceedings broadcast live on television as this provided a chance for the world to see the competence of the country's judiciary system, including its law officers.
The Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Ziyambi Ziyambi said he was proud of the country’s lawyers, especially their display of knowledge and skill which broadly reflect positively for the country’s legal representatives.
“Our lawyers acquitted themselves very well. I was impressed. This shows that Zimbabwean lawyers are well trained and capable professionals. They articulated very well and even the counter arguments from the applicant’s lawyers were well structured and well thought out despite the lack of evidence to support their case,” Ziyambi said.
Ziyambi said all the lawyers displayed great professionalism and Advocate Thabani Mpofu representing MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa showed pronounced intelligence despite being on the losing end.
“I was very impressed. However, I felt sorry for Advocate Thabani Mpofu who didn’t have a case to defend. He showed great expertise, trying to persuade the judges in the most professional way despite his client later losing the case due to lack of evidence,” Ziyambi said.
Ziyambi said MDC-Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa's decision to hire lawyers from South Africa had more to do with grandstanding than simply seeking the services of the most competent legal minds.
Ziyambi said due to the nature of the case, a local lawyer had advantage over a foreign lawyer.
“With regards to Chamisa hiring lawyers from South Africa and now looking at the brilliant show by our own local lawyers, foreign lawyers would have made no difference. Actually, it was an advantage to be represented by a local lawyer because a local lawyer had the procedural advantage to the merits of the case,” he said.
President of the Law Society of Zimbabwe, Misheck Hogwe, echoed the same sentiments saying Chamisa’s decision to engage lawyers from South Africa was only a matter of personal choice as entitled by the law.
“The applicant is by the law entitled to engage them (foreign lawyers) as he so wished, of course subject to relevant legislation governing the engagement of foreign lawyers,” Hogwe said.
Hogwe said reasons for the applicant to engage foreign lawyers are diverse and it may simply be to tap from law experiences from other countries.
“The reasons to engage foreign lawyers maybe diverse but not limited to issues to do with confidentiality, fear of infiltration or simply wanting to tap from experiences from other jurisdictions. Nevertheless, it was apparent from the feedback that our lawyers acquitted themselves and a lot of people appreciated the skills exhibited,” Hogwe said.
He said in terms on competence, Zimbabwean lawyers compete at any regional level and beyond.
“The competence of our lawyers compared to other countries in the region is very high. Our lawyers are competent enough to compete at any level in the region and beyond. No wonder why we have Zimbabwean lawyers plying their trade in countries like South Africa, Botswana and Namibia,” Hogwe said.
Hogwe said he is proud of the lawyers’ display of knowledge and expertise.
“As the Law Society of Zimbabwe, we are proud of all our lawyers who argued before the Constitutional Court. Most of them had really done their homework in preparing for the hearing. At the end of the day, it is not a question of winning or losing,” Hogwe said.
Hogwe hailed the Constitutional Court for its decision to broadcast the case live.
“The most important aspect of the Constitutional Court case is that it was beamed live so that all who had an interest in the matter followed the proceedings. It was refreshing to see our lawyers battling it out in full view of the audience across the length and breadth of the globe,” Hogwe said.
The live broadcasting of the case became more of a showcase of intelligence of Zimbabwean lawyers.
Some of the takeaways from the Constitutional Court include a Latin legal phrase “Qui facit alium facit per se” and words such as “fulcrum” and “pith” - uttered by Advocate Mpofu is he tried to articulate his client's case.
Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) lawyer Tawanda Kanengoni also emerged as a favourite of many with his soft and well-articulated counter arguments.
Chamisa was represented by Advocates Mpofu, Sylvester Hashiti and Gina Mabwe, while the defended President Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zanu-PF was represented by Advocates Lewis Uriri and Thembinkosi Magwaliba, with ZEC being represented by Kanengoni assisted by Charles Nyika.
Speaking after delivering the court's judgement, which declared President Mnangagwa as the winner of the harmonised elections, Chief Justice Luke Malaba hailed the lawyers for their expertise.
“You should be proud of being a Zimbabwean lawyer. Like I said in the beginning, we thank the lawyers. At the end of the day, it is their submissions regardless of which side they were, that has helped this court to arrive at a decision that is purposeful,” Malaba said.
“The integrity lies in your status as a lawyer. Therefore, be proud to uphold those principles by which the public looks upon you.”
When it comes to opening doors to cameras into the court room, Zimbabwe has followed the footprints of its regional counterpart, South Africa.
South Africa is undoubtedly one of the first countries in the region to broadcast live court proceedings.
In recent years, South Africa made regional and international headlines when it beamed live high profile court cases beginning in 2014.
When the South African Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) first broadcast the Oscar Pistorius murder case in 2014, the court paved way for open justice and the right for the public to hear and see what goes on in courts.
The South Africa Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) aired a number of cases which dominated regional and international headlines for several years.
The cases includes the Pistorius murder case (2014), the former SABC board member Hope Zinde murder case (2016) as well as the former South African President Jacob Zuma corruption cases.
The live broadcasting of the Constitutional Courts’ proceedings on the Nelson Chamisa Presidential Election petition became both a show of Zimbabwean lawyers’ level of competence and expertise as well as the transparency of the country's judiciary.