Beatrice Mtetwa, leading human rights lawyer and Board member of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, recently noted, “People who go to do things under the cover of darkness are afraid of light. So, if you come at midnight, I’ll be there with my headlights glaring.”
The smoke, fog and dust of Zimbabwe’s Constitutional referendum had not yet dissipated or settled when the news circulated that Beatrice Mtetwa had been arrested. Her crime was asking the whereabouts of a client. The State refers to that as “obstructing or defeating the course of justice.” The truth is that Beatrice Mtetwa is the actual course of justice.
Mtetwa is a fearless and tireless defender of human and civil rights and a remarkably persistent proponent of the law as an instrument of change, in Zimbabwe and everywhere. Some call that `the rule of law’, but it’s more than that. It’s the rule of transformation, of always struggling to become more fully human.
Mtetwa has consistently, openly and formally challenged police, judges, even fellow lawyers to act according to oaths and promises taken. After being beaten by police, in 2003, the moment Mtetwa sufficiently regained her capacities, she went straight to the police station, and to the very police who had injured her, and filed charges. When she defended Jestina Mukoko, she did more than protest Mukoko’s innocence. Again, she filed charges against the State. Each time, Mtetwa understood that the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe, if it heard the case, would find against her. And each time she said, history will be the judge … not these corrupt men and women who sit on a high bench and act despicably.
She has asked, repeatedly, what is law in a nation-State in which the Constitution has been mutilated? What is freedom in a nation-State built on ever deepening cycles of violence and ever multiplying and intensifying violations of persons and communities, and especially those of women? For example, according to Mtetwa, during the 2006 round of pogroms, “The most brutal assault against opposition activists occurred on 11 March, when members of the Women’s League were attacked, some of them with batons, as they attempted to attend a prayer meeting organised by the Save Zimbabwe Campaign. The League’s president and secretary-general were among the injured, and there were many reports of injuries such as broken limbs, torn ears and severe bruises.”
Maybe something good, or at least not altogether bad, will come of Saturday’s referendum. Maybe Presidential powers will be curtailed. Maybe women will have more presence in matters of State. Maybe.
But the real referendum is taking place in the prisons and police stations, where people are being held without charges or with trumped up charges. Where people have been abused and tortured in so many ways, there sits Beatrice Mtetwa, and she says, “I’ll keep trying, and I’m not going to stop.” `Releasing’ Beatrice Mtetwa into yet another cycle of violence is not enough. The State is guilty of obstructing and defeating the course of justice, not Beatrice Mtetwa. Who’s afraid of the light? Not Beatrice Mtetwa. Shine the light; make sure it’s glaring.
Dan Moshenberg firstname.lastname@example.org