My love letter to the Zimbabwean Judiciary

Activism, Democracy, Governance, Human Rights, Zimbabwe

Dearest esteemed colleagues, honourable members of ‘THE’ noble profession, Judges of our revered Courts, I write this intimate missive to you -one lawyer to another. You have an onerous task; TO CHANGE SOCIETY FOR THE BETTER. In fulfilling that role you also face the challenge of trying to balance the interests of two of the most difficult and at times irrational groupings in our society, politicians and the citizenry.

I ask you not to favour either one of them [politicians or citizenry]; but please favour justice.

My lordships and ladyships; 120 years ago, on 9 February 1893, an American lawyer, politician and statesman who was also a Democrat presidential nominee 3 times-William Jennings Bryan said something profound, that I believe many of you-being widely read-have come across. He said, “Next to the Ministry [preaching the word of God], I know of no more noble profession than the law. The object aimed at is justice, equal and exact, and if it does not reach that end at once it is because the stream is diverted by selfishness or checked by ignorance. Its principles ennoble [lend greater dignity or nobility of character] and its practice elevates.”

Sirs and madames; the wisdom in this statement remains relevant today as it was then. For what are we as lawyers, if we do not seek to see justice delivered? Can we call ourselves agents of change and justice if our work is driven by self-gain and selfishness? Do we retain our dignity and the dignity of our profession when we display blatant bias, towards things that trash justice and all its principles?

I ask you not to favour either one of them [politicians or citizenry]; but please favour justice.

Monsieur/madame le juge, my requests are few and simple:-

Make decisions on merit not on political bias

Have a quiet dignified presence.

If the system is rotten, be the maverick within-not just any maverick but one for justice; independent, impartial, accountable. As Martin Luther King Jnr said “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” You are entrusted with ensuring that the arc bends towards what is right, fair and true-please do not throw that trust to the dogs.

I ask you not to favour either one of them [politicians or citizenry]; but please favour justice.

My Lord and Ladies, I know you need to eat, but if you must eat won’t you have hard-earned and honestly attained worms than ill-begotten pudding? I assure you, for eating the worms-history will judge you kindly for your sacrifice. Don’t you think that your integrity and leaving behind a legacy of fairness and balance is much more honourable than serving your immediate needs?

I ask you not to favour either one of them [politicians or citizenry]; but please favour justice.

Lordships and Ladyships, a wise someone once said “ The judge who gives the right judgement while appearing not to do so will be thrice blessed in heaven, while on earth will not be so.” Is this something that you might want to guide you in making your decisions?

I ask you not to favour either one of them [politicians or citizenry]; but please favour justice.

Resepectfully, I know you are human beings before you are judges.  I know you experience fear; fear of losing your jobs, fear of reprisals, fear of the unknown.  Do not let fear expropriate your dignity. Rather as Thomas Pain so aptly put it, there is character in strength and choosing to do what is right, above what is convenient. He said, “I love the man that can smile in trouble,  that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. Tis the business of little minds to shrink, but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death.“

I ask you not to favour either one of them [politicians or citizenry]; but please favour justice.

Humbly, when I ask you for impartiality, I am NOT saying do not come to the Bench with any ideas. The truth and reality of it is that you already have them; for or against women, gays, lesbians, prisoners, rapists, murderers, politics, political parties, ideologies and struggles. So bring your ideas to the Bench, but do not let these cloud your judgement in delivering justice. If anything, acknowledge you have these ideas in your head already but challenge them or affirm them with thorough, well-reasoned, value-based, critical thinking entrenched in the two principles of fairness and justice.

I ask you not to favour either one of them [politicians or citizenry]; but please favour justice.

Your honour, it begins with you to serve justice and yes, your contribution as an individual even if no one else will back you, does matter. Ask Justice Koome of Kenya how she did it. She had a one (wo)man show, where she observed the right and freedom of all individuals from unlawful detention. And so she cleared all cases in the courts of individuals who had been arrested for “insulting the President.” Guess what, even after making these “unwelcome” decisions, which possibly could have lost her a job and income, she remains a judge today.

I ask you not to favour either one of them [politicians or citizenry]; but please favour justice.

Honourable judges, I believe you know the law is an unfinished publication, you continue reading as each chapter unfolds right in front of you. I have come across these words and would like you to hear them too. They were spoken by Professor John Dugard, a South African scholar of great repute in his criticism of South African judges under apartheid South Africa. He said “The judge is not a mere automaton who declares the law…he has a wide range of options open to him in fact-finding, in the interpretation of statutes, in the review of administrative action, in the application of precedent and in the selection of Roman-Dutch authority; and. . . in choosing between conflicting and contradictory principles of statutory interpretation, precedent and Roman-Dutch authority, the judge may legitimately select those principles, precedents or authorities from our liberal Roman Dutch heritage which best advance equality and liberty.” So think, think and think again before you hand down your decision. Think in favour of equality and liberty. Think in favour of fairness and justice.

 I ask you not to favour either one of them [politicians or citizenry]; but please favour justice.

My Lords and Ladies, do not be afraid of labelling, if you are doing a good job, your record will speak for itself. As Justice Yvonne Mogkoro, former Judge of the South African Constitutional Court once said, “The role of a judge is not to be popular but to deliver justice, undiluted, unpolluted.” Your maturity comes with fearlessness and boldness. Do not cower from justice-deliver justice.

I ask you not to favour either one of them [politicians or citizenry]; but please favour justice.

Oh my Lordships and Ladyships, humbly I urge, be careful in your speech, your utterances, your verdicts and your reasoning. You will be charged for it-maybe not in one of your courts of law-but in our collective memory as a nation. Jackie Assimwe, a friend and human rights defender from Uganda once said, “Once a judiciary is compromised, then the justice it delivers is tainted.” Do not let us doubt the efficacy of your footprints. Rather, regenerate in our minds the integrity and wisdom of the Bench.

I ask you not to favour either one of them [politicians or citizenry]; but please favour justice.

In humility and gratitude, I salute those of you who were suspended for rightly releasing, wrongfully arrested and detained fellow lawyers and human rights defenders.

I salute those of you who defend the rights of the defenceless, in particular prisoners as you ensure their right to fair trial and dignified existence while incarcerated.

I salute those of you who uphold fundamental freedoms, of speech, expression, association, assembly and of the press.

I salute those of you who recognise that divergent views within any society are patriotic as they foster constructive discourse.

I salute those of you who refuse to be “cadrerised”-after all your greatest strength lies in independent thought and expression.

May I invite you all to make these wise words by Mahatma Ghandi your daily mantra in executing your noble duty:

“Let the first act of every morning be to make the following resolve for the day:

I shall not fear anyone on Earth.

I shall fear only God.

I shall not bear ill will toward anyone.

I shall not submit to injustice from anyone.

I shall conquer untruth by truth.

And in resisting untruth, I shall put up with all suffering.”

My final humble request: I ask you not to favour me or either one of them [politicians or citizenry]; but please favour justice.

11 thoughts on “My love letter to the Zimbabwean Judiciary

  1. Im impressed, I have to admit. Really rarely do I experience a blog thats equally educative and entertaining, and let me tell you, you have strike the nail on the head. Your idea is outstanding; the issue is something not enough people are speaking intelligently about. I’m very happy that we stumbled across this kind of in my search for something about it.

  2. This message NEEDS to be echoed across the land of Zimbabwe.Powerful words here. I agree with Nicholas, not just limited to lawyers but people in general.

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