MDC's A-team lawyers did it for free

Zimbabwe justice minister stops legal hotshots appearing in court

26 August 2018 - 00:00 By RAY NDLOVU

The three leading SA advocates who joined the MDC Alliance legal team's Constitutional Court attempt to overturn the election result acted free of charge.
The decision by Dali Mpofu SC, Tembeka Ngcukaitobi and Jeremy Gauntlett SC saved the opposition coalition thousands of dollars in fees, even though they were prevented from addressing the court.
MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa said he had recruited an "A-team" of local and regional lawyers.
But when it sought the South Africans' services, it is understood the MDC Alliance made it clear it was "financially exhausted" by the election campaign.
Running on a shoestring budget, the opposition struggled to keep up with the campaign spending of Zanu-PF, which splashed out on posters, billboards, vehicles, and newspaper and TV advertising.
Under the Political Parties Finance Act, the MDC-T received only $1.8m from the treasury, in line with the number of legislators it had in parliament. Zanu-PF was paid $6m.
Ngcukaitobi said when the MDC Alliance contacted the South African advocates, it admitted being broke. "We all took the brief on that basis. They might have paid their local lawyers. But we specifically didn't want to take money from the MDC Alliance, which we understand is not particularly flush with cash," he said.
The trio also paid their own travel and accommodation bills. "All South African lawyers have been acting pro bono," said Ngcukaitobi.
The advocates intend to complain to South African justice minister Michael Masutha about the way they were reduced to spectators at the court hearing.
Zimbabwe's justice minister, Ziyambi Ziyambi, denied the South African lawyers the clearances they required, saying SA and Zimbabwe did not have a reciprocating arrangement allowing lawyers to appear in each others' courts.
Ngcukaitobi said he hoped Masutha would take Ziyambi to task. "It should be early next week that the process will start, and we will start by writing to the justice minister and if necessary also to the state president, Cyril Ramaphosa, on the matter."
Mpofu said the South African lawyers were denied access to the court by "political interference", pointing out that Ziyambi was conflicted in the matter because he was President Emmerson Mnangagwa's chief election agent in the July 30 poll.
"We had divided up the arguments. Ngcukaitobi was going to deal with a certain section and I was also going to deal with a certain section and advocate Thabani Mpofu from Zimbabwe was going to deal with another section," said Mpofu.
"The prejudice is not ours, we are professionals. The prejudice is with the client who has been denied the counsel of his choice."
MDC-T secretary-general Douglas Mwonzora said the South African lawyers were chosen for their specific skills, which would have bolstered the MDC Alliance case.
"It is tragic that their permits were not processed. Gauntlett has practised in a Zimbabwean court before. It was clear hostility by the state as it doesn't take time to process their paperwork. So we welcome the intention to take the Zimbabwe government to task over their interference," he said.
On Friday, after the court gave judgment, Ziyambi defended his decision. "They knew all the laws and rules of this country, but didn't follow them," he said...

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