Senior writer Mugove Tafirenyika speaks to former Foreign Affairs minister Walter Mzembi’s lawyer Job Sikhala about the controversy surrounding his decision to represent him in court. Find below excerpts of the interview.
Q: You are an opposition leader and also a lawyer retained to defend, in court, ex-Foreign Affairs minister Walter Mzembi accused of “criminal abuse of office”. Some claim you are conflicted. What is your response?
A: The first thing that we have to accept is we must appreciate the different opinions by the people of Zimbabwe over political leaders in the opposition, who at the same time are legal practitioners who are representing members from the other side on allegations they are facing.
I appreciate their concerns as they are all citizens entitled to give their own opinions. It’s very good for democracy.
I did not feel angry with their opinions, this is the Zimbabwe we want, and this is the kind of Zimbabwe we must create whereby people must be able to express their reservations when they see something they think they don’t agree with.
What you have to notice is that among the different opinions that have been thrown by Zimbabweans since it came out that I am representing Mzembi is that many legal practitioners came out to try to clarify the issue of the profession versus moral obligation which they are expecting from their political leaders.
The issue is that since I started practicing as a lawyer, I had an extensive interview with your paper where I clarified that my legal practice is a calling and that I do my work with honest commitment, due diligence and also doing to the best of my ability to make sure that the interest of my clients are represented.
Having said that, in this case, the first major issue which the people of Zimbabwe must understand is that when you are legal practitioner, you take an oath before a High Court judge to uphold the country’s Constitution, to abide by the rules and regulations that governs the profession of law.
You also take an oath to God that God should always guide you in whatever you are going to do.
The first thing is that the legal profession is governed by the Law Society of Zimbabwe (LSZ).
The LSZ has rules and regulations which govern how every legal practitioner should conduct himself and also exercise his work in this country.
In those regulations and in the ethical regulations of the LSZ, it is pure misconduct that is subject to disciplinary proceedings against a legal practitioner who after having been given instructions by a client, tries to discriminate against that client, you will be subject to disciplinary proceedings by the Law Society.
Q: Why did Mzembi chose you to be his lawyer?
A: What happened is that the former minister of Foreign Affairs, for two consecutive days, invited me to his house to give me full briefings before he was arrested.
We issued a statement before he was even arrested and in the two days, he was giving us explanations and also details of what has been happening during the period of his service as a minister and also people who have been after him and people who have been vowing to politically persecute him.
When the issue of political persecution arises, I found it to be a challenge to myself despite being a member of the opposition political party.
I also have been a victim of political persecution in this country since the beginning of my political career since the formative stages of the Movement for Democratic Change.
I have been persecuted; I faced several allegations against me. There is no crime in the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act to which I was not alleged to have committed.
I faced more than 62 cases of mere political persecution and I have never been convicted in any 62 of those allegations.
When I noticed that the current situation in the country where people are a being persecuted for having 10 tonnes of beans at their homes, where people are persecuted for having donated to church organisations as ministers to promote religious tourism, that’s when you will be able to distinguish a proper legal process of trying to nip corruption and also political persecution.
Corruption is defined in terms of our laws and statutes in the Anti-Corruption Act and in the Prevention of Corruption Act as an act whereby an individual engages in a transaction to accrue benefits out of it in a corrupt way.
I am not representing and protecting somebody who has committed corruption, I will never ever protect corruption.
The donations of these TV screens to church organisations and University of Zimbabwe did not reside in the accrual of any direct financial benefit to Mzembi.
Obviously, this is not a case of corruption; it’s a lie for people to believe that Mzembi is facing corruption charges.
There is no any benefit which Mzembi accrued from the donation of these television screens to those churches; it was specifically a ministry initiative to promote religious tourism.
This was a good initiative. For example, how many people visited TB Joshua from other corners of the world as religious tourism?
Even among current serving ministers like minister (Chris) Mushowe and even the vice president have at one material time been religious tourists to prophets outside our country.
This was a good initiative by Mzembi and when a nation criminalises such initiative, that’s no longer a question of fighting corruption but political persecution.
Israel is one of the countries which benefited immensely from religious tourism, so religious tourism was not a new concept in our country and Saudi Arabia did the same.
These television screen’s allegations which my client is currently facing, where screens that were purchased by government for public viewing screens for the (soccer) World Cup, after the World Cup, what should have happen to those television screens?
Should they have been taken to a warehouse and rot there?
The ministry had to make sure that these television screens must be used for the benefit of the nation and they made an initiative.
Q: So you are saying Mzembi is not corrupt?
A: Mzembi is not an ordinary client of Job Sikhala.
Mzembi is my uncle and I also have a moral obligation to help him when he is in need.
The people of Zimbabwe must understand that he is a brother to my father. There is nothing I don’t know about my uncle, his period as a minister up to now.
He is poor, he has absolutely nothing except his two houses, one in Borrowdale West and the other one is in Greendale.
He acquired these two houses before even he became a minister; he constructed one through the proceeds from his company called Zunde Ramambo which was dealing in agro-chemicals.
He is the only former ruling party minister who doesn’t own a farm or own a mining company. He never stole anything from government.
People may try to besmirch him but he is cleaner than most people who constitute the current government.
They are trying to destroy him because he was belonging to the wrong faction. It is an attempt by the system to de-brand him or destroy him.
Q: So what exactly happened on this issue?
A: There was a Cabinet resolution to the effect that the minister must promote religious tourism, he then used the television screens to promote religious tourism.
They are refusing to declassify Cabinet minutes that gave him that directive to implement religious tourism at the material time but we are not going to stop until we have got the truth.
So we are going to subpoena the former chairperson of Cabinet at the material time who is the former president Robert Mugabe to come and appear in court to tell us that on the day when they were discussing the policy of promoting religious tourism, what were the resolutions made by Cabinet regarding that.
We are also going to make an application to subpoena the former minister of Finance Tendai Biti to come and testify on what the resolution says about what should have happened to the TV sets.
This is a matter of political persecution and as a victim of political persecution myself; I know how painful it is.
The people who accuse me that I am representing a Zanu PF client; it’s not true, he was expelled and he is currently a citizen of this country.
He stopped to be a member of Zanu PF on November 19.
Q: Assuming it was another corrupt Zanu PF official, would you have represented that client?
A: In terms of legal ethics, if you turn down any instruction on grounds of discrimination, if that client insists that he wants you to represent him and you refuse, you are liable to charges of misconduct.
A lawyer is not allowed to recuse himself for any other reasons except of extreme circumstances.
– Daily News