Feminist Chronicles: Diary 7: Beatrice Mtetwa

In my view, there are LAWYERS and then there are lawyers. A lawyer will take on a case after deliberating on the cost and benefit and coming to the conclusion that the gain far outweighs the cost. But a LAWYER will take on a case, even if the cost far outweighs the benefit, as long as justice is served.

Beatrice Mtetwa is a LAWYER.

Beatrice receiving one of her many awards

Swazi by birth and Zimbabwean by marriage, I like claiming her as completely ours but to be fair, I do acknowledge that if I were to marry a non-Zimbabwean I would not want to lose my Zimbabwean identity (at least not completely).

Beatrice holds a Bachelor of Laws (Honours) Degree from the Universities of Botswana and Swaziland. She began her work as a prosecutor in Swaziland, then in Zimbabwe and for 8 years between 1981 and 1989 she worked for government. In 1989 she decided to go into private practice starting off at Kantor and Immerman Legal Practitioners, a renowned legal firm in Harare, before setting up Mtetwa and Nyambirai, her own law firm. Today she is regarded with respect and deep admiration for her achievements not just as a lawyer but also a woman lawyer.

She is more than just a lawyer, she is a champion for human rights. Her passion to defend human rights is evident in the nature of the cases which she has chosen to take upon and defend. Beatrice takes on cases that threaten her own safety and security. Yes, lawyers should be accorded privileges and immunities for the work that they do but such privileges and immunities have been eroded by deliberate state actions in Zimbabwe. Lawyers have been harassed, threatened and at times even detained for representing their clients.

With each politically sensitive case that she takes on, Beatrice places her life and personal integrity at risk. She does this work without giving a second thought to herself and fearlessly too. In 2003 she was arrested on false charges of drunken driving, detained for three hours, assaulted and choked only to be released later without charge. In May 2007 she was assaulted by the police with rubber clubs together with her colleagues for protesting erosions to the rule of law and constant harassment of fellow legal practitioners.

Her most sung victories include her representation of Jestina Mukoko who had been abducted by state security agents and detained. Beatrice won a permanent stay of criminal proceedings when she proved that Jestina had been tortured in police custody and that the state did not have evidence to prove that she was responsible for banditry and attempting to overthrow the government.

Beatrice also won acquittals for Toby Harnden and Julian Simmonds, journalists with The Sunday Telegraph of London, who had been arrested outside a polling station in Zimbabwe during the April 2005 parliamentary election for doing their work without accreditation.

As a respectable member of the legal profession many organisations and institutions value her integrity hence she sits on the Boards of numerous organisations. These include the African Advisory Board of Article 19 an organisation fighting for freedom of expression; the Media Institute of Southern Africa fighting for press freedom and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights which defends human rights through strategic litigation, research and advocacy. She also sits on the Boards of newspapers including the Mail and Guardian Media Group, the Pioneer Africa Corporation and The Zimbabwe Independent and The Standard Newspapers.

She served as the President of the Law Society of Zimbabwe.

She has received several international awards recognising her efforts in defending human rights and freedom of expression and the media as well as fighting for justice for her clients. These include in 2003 the Liberty / Justice and Law Society Human Rights Lawyer of the Year Award, in 2005 the New York based Committee to Protect Journalists International Press Freedom Award, in 2006 the London based index on Censorship Press Freedom Award in the Law Category, in 2008 the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists, in 2009 the Sydney and Felicia Kentridge Award by the General Council of the Bar of South Africa, in 2009 again the European Bar Human Rights Institute awarded her the Ludovic-Trarieux International Human Rights Prize and in 2010 she won the International Human Rights award of the American Bar Association. In 2011 she won the Inamori Ethics Award courtesy of the Case Western Reserve University in Ohio as well as the Zimbabwean Annual Human Rights Defender Award.

In my introduction to the Feminist Chronicles I inserted a caption which stated that: ‘Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.’ Beatrice makes me realise that women are more than just people; they are superhuman in their excellence.

And that concludes yet another tale of a Zimbabwean woman who makes me damn proud to be a Zimbabwean!!!

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