‘Women have been their own devil’
HARARE – Veteran lawyer and vice president of the Law Society of Zimbabwe (LSZ) Vimbai Nyemba — once served tea to fellow board members in her inaugural meeting because “it was instinctive to do that as a woman”.
“It’s a natural instinct. But later on I then realised I would miss the discussions that are happening before the board meeting starts because I am busy trying to serve tea.
“I am taking my place as a woman.
“This is not the time to take a place as a woman when you are supposed to take a place as a person and as an individual,” she told the Daily News yesterday as she rallied women to embrace the new constitution.
“We grew up knowing that a woman is a woman.
A place for a woman is the kitchen. So this is really in most women’s minds no matter how educated they are.
“I would call women their own devil in respect of that because we grew up knowing that a woman is a woman and must do chores”.
Nyemba is the second woman to occupy a powerful post within the LSZ and the first vice president of the powerful lawyers’ regulatory group.
Feisty human rights defender and high profile divorce lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa — was the first woman to lead the group when she became president.
Now, Nyemba leading the women renaissance crusade wants her colleagues to grab the cudgels and exploit the positives being brought by the new constitution.
“The constitution has so many positives for women. This is a constitution which we must celebrate. This is a constitution that all women must find as a stepping stone,” said Nyemba.
“The new constitution recognises socio-economic and political rights of women as well as outlawing death sentence.
“Women must utilise that, must be involved in politics. You will be surprised that things having been given to women you will find no woman coming in, you will find a few. We want women to be involved.
“We want Parliament, Cabinet and the presidium to be full of women. Everything has been given to us. It’s for us to take,” Nyemba told the Daily News.
In the forthcoming elections, some legislative seats have been reserved for women as all the political parties implement the proportional representation system.
This is a huge boost to the feminine gender whose calls and push for gender parity by end of 2015 within the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) are visibly taking shape.
Nyemba is already among an eminent group of women who are holding their own in a vicious and unforgiving male-dominated environment.
She has steered V Nyemba & Associates, her law firm, to a respectable position within the legal fraternity.
But she is modest about it.
“We have managed by grace of God but more so as a result of integrity and consistency.
“Before people get convinced that you can do something good for them especially if you are a woman, they don’t give you good work.
“But with time as you persevere and continue, people will have faith in you as a woman and they will start to trust you.
“It’s not an easy world but once you stick to your guns and you are straight forward people will know there is somebody there.
“There are some people who phone here and ask for Mr Nyemba. Some will even ask for Vincent because it’s (law firm) V Nyemba and Associates.
“So you can imagine people out there still think it’s men who should be able to do things that can be called by big names,” she observed.
Her husband, Wilson Rufaro Nyemba, Dean of Engineering at the University of Zimbabwe has been a pillar of support, she says.
“We met at the UZ around 1989 during our studies. We used to know each other then but things happened later. I have seen husbands who pull their wives down but my husband likes what I do. With him, it’s V go, V go, all the time.
“In our marriage I have not managed to become an engineer but my husband has managed to become a lawyer.”
While Nyemba is clearly understood and supported at home, there lie tough tasks at the LSZ where she and Lloyd Mhishi, the president, need to provide leadership that maintains discipline within the lawyers’ body.
The LSZ has never been a favourite of the politicians who have easily jumped at its throat whenever the respectable body expresses concerns on the assault of justice.
“We are a regulated body. Our mandate is to ensure the rule of law is respected and nobody is above the law. And to make sure also that justice prevails,” said Nyemba.
“We have lawyers who have been arrested for their criminal activities. The Law Society has not really stood up for that because the Law Society also wants lawyers to be arrested if they are wrong because we are advocating that nobody is above the law.
“We have got quite a number who have been de-registered because of their criminal tendencies.”
Established in 1981, the LSZ was formed to replace the previous bar association.
It has more than 800 registered members but has wielded the axe on errant lawyers found with hands in the till and caught engaging in unethical practices.
Its membership is drawn from all registered legal practitioners residing in Zimbabwe whether in private practice, in commerce or in civil service.
The LSZ functions are to promote the study of the law, contribute, undertake or make recommendations on legal training, control of admission of new members, regulate the profession in respect of continuing training, discipline and trust accounts.
Among its major functions are the promotion of justice, defend human rights, rule of law and the independence of judiciary.
“We have had some of our members who have been arrested during the course of their work. We think lawyers should not be intimidated. Once lawyers are intimidated then the justice system becomes questionable,” said Nyemba.
“The public out there will not have protection. We leave the law to take its course when they are arrested and will not interfere with whatever will be happening in court.”
The LSZ and other pro-democracy groups reacted with shock and dismay to the arrest of Mtetwa while representing a client during a raid on Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s private office.
Mtetwa was roughly handled during the arrest and spent more than a week in custody after being denied bail in circumstances which drew fire from human rights defenders.
Her arrest was seen as intimidation against lawyers and human rights defenders.
Recently High Court judge, Charles Hungwe, who had granted bail to Tsvangirai’s staffers who had been arrested during a raid at their offices, came under systematic but sustained attacks from the State-controlled media and pro-Zanu PF groups.
But Nyemba told the Daily News that the LSZ was not against the State and has been engaging the police to create a good working relationship.
“We don’t interfere. As the LSZ we also speak on behalf of the judiciary and Attorney General’s office because they are also lawyers.
“So from time to time we engage each other and dialogue.”
She however, said the LSZ had no role in pursuing cases that take long to be completed such as those that see accused people spending more time in remand prison.
“We normally have meetings with the judiciary not in connection with a particular case but just discussing about what is happening in the fraternity.
“We have also seen the Chief Justice calling for matters to be concluded in a certain period of time. That’s very administrative now,” said the LSZ vice president.
“When the matter is in court, it is in court. Us as lawyers what we do is to watch what is happening if need be, we will be engaging to find out but without interfering.
“The kind of question where someone will be languishing in remand prison for 10 years must be posed to the Registrar and powers-be of that particular court because it is very administrative.
“I think they would be reasons behind that.”