HARARE – In the expanding anti-corruption crackdown on the country’s political elite, several erstwhile senior ruling party members have been arraigned in the purge being pursued by new President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
They face allegations of money laundering, bribery, extortion and exploiting public office for personal gain.
All those held are individuals with links to the vanquished Generation 40 faction of the ruling party, which wanted avaricious former first lady Grace Mugabe to succeed her doddering 93-year-old husband Robert Mugabe, whose government was toppled in a military intervention.
These under-fire G40 members have retained lawyers aligned to opposition parties as their lead counsel to argue their corruption cases in court.
Now, there is controversy whether lawyers aligned to the MDC Alliance — which is campaigning on a platform of punishment for alleged Zanu PF thieves — can mount defence as to why the same alleged thieves should not go to jail.
Several members of the MDC Alliance, who are lawyers, are representing under-fire Zanu PF officials — from Job Sikhala who has been retained as Walter Mzembi’s lead counsel, Welshman Ncube who is representing former VP Phelekezela Mpoko, and many others.
These attorneys are facing withering pressure from opposition supporters who disapprove of the representation of their political opponents ahead of a key general election mid-year.
Some are even questioning the lawyers’ loyalty to the opposition and some have lost confidence in their overall judgment as a result. Others allege they are doing it purely for the money and are conflicted.
But then a lawyer’s representation of a client does not constitute an endorsement of the client’s political, economic, social or moral views or activities.
A sense of justice and professional responsibility is all that a lawyer considers in deciding whether to take on a case or not.
In the context of the factional capture of the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) to settle political scores, it is clear politics has overthrown the law, and what we are witnessing are political fights camouflaged as fights against corruption, where huge criminals hound little ones using State infrastructure. As a result, lawyers linked to the opposition with strong political convictions are taking a stand.
It seems the prosecuting authority and the motivation to prosecute has become political and factional, with apparent selective application of the law only targeting the G40 cabal.
Yet, both accusers and the accused are tainted by corruption. By the way, politics is not shielded from dictates of conscience and from the law.
These ongoing arrests are purely political and only finding expression at law.
Those fighting the ruling regime like the MDC Alliance have an ethical and legal obligation to scuttle such machinations with all the vigour they could muster.
Of course, the lawyers linked to the opposition do not implicitly or explicitly endorse their Zanu PF clients’ actions or beliefs by establishing a defence, but it seems there are others who feel that representation is unfortunately being perceived as promoting graft by the ruling elite.
It is trite to note that it is not permissible for an attorney to assert a discriminatory agenda as grounds that he or she is unable to advocate zealously for a client — the so-called cab-rank rule.
The law deals with the same sort of questions as politics: what makes a just society; the balance between liberty and security, and so on.
Lawyers are trained to take two sides and here they have chosen to challenge the factional capture of Zacc to settle political scores and the selective application of the law.
The negative public reaction to the representation of Zanu PF officials by opposition-linked lawyers means the Law Society of Zimbabwe has not done enough in educating the public about the constitutional right to representation guaranteed to all.