Zimbabwe: Beatrice Mtetwa Has the Right to Be Here

editorial

In 1962 Herbert Wiltshire Chitepo was appointed Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in Tanzania.

This effectively made him the Tanzanian government's chief legal officer.

In 1994 Simpson Mutambanengwe was appointed to the Namibian High Court. He also served on the Supreme Court of that country, both as acting Chief Justice and, after his retirement, several times as Acting-Judge of Appeal.

Esmail Chatikobo, quit the Zimbabwean bench in July 2001 to join the Botswana High Court. He died in 2009 aged 50 of heart failure. Justice Moses Chinhengo is presently a High Court judge in Botswana.

The great lawyers cited above never denounced their Zimbabwean citizenship on taking up these positions in foreign lands because it was needless to do so. Indeed Zimbabwe has exported great legal minds abroad and as a country we should all be proud of this.

Zimbabwean expatriates are working in high positions all over the world. You find Zimbabwean professors in almost every reputable university in the world. They are where they are mostly because of their personal achievements. They have been able to work in foreign governments and institutions primarily because these governments and institutions have seen their qualifications, professionalism and have liked the value they add.

We have heard that there are at least five Zimbabwean engineers working at the Pentagon, the headquarters of the United States Department of Defence. Unconfirmed reports say our own Deputy Prime Minister, Arthur Mutambara once worked there applying his knowledge of Robotics and Mechatronics for research.

For foreigners to even be considered for work at the hub of US military might is unimaginable if one doesn't consider the US philosophy of harnessing the world's greatest brains in all fields, including heart surgery and nuclear physics. Albert Einstein's greatest achievements came after immigrating to the US.

Nations that employ foreigners in highly specialised fields for their own benefit have outgrown some of the irrational feelings brought about by an overplayed sense of nationalism. Xenophobia is one such irrational sentiment. Interestingly Zimbabwe is said to have three million of its children working in different fields across the world. This would suggest Zimbabweans should be the last people to hate foreigners working in their midst.

People and newspapers that promote xenophobia do not appreciate the extent to which this irrational hatred of foreigners can go. The brutal murder of Ernesto Alfabeto Nhamuave, a 35-year-old Mozambican who was burned to death during the xenophobic violence in South Africa in May 2008 continues to haunt the world today.

The photographs of him burning were carried in newspapers and television stations across the world in a manner that brought home just how barbaric violence against foreigners can be.

In the past few weeks we have seen and read articles about top human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa which have sought to isolate her as an unwanted foreigner meddling in our affairs. Not only have the articles been full of untruths, but disturbingly they have sought to make her a legitimate target for attack. It may no longer be safe for her to walk freely in the streets of Harare.

The articles have been based on outright lies about her immigration status. Legal experts such as world-renowned author Petina Gappah have said about the articles, "The worst things are the legal inaccuracies; they quote provisions on citizenship that do not apply to her at all, and imply that she is here illegally."

The truth of the matter, Gappah says, is that, "Mtetwa is a permanent resident, [though] not a citizen. So she is allowed to travel on her Swazi passport. She is also allowed, as confirmed by a Supreme Court judgement, as a permanent resident of Zimbabwe, to engage in employment or other gainful activity in any part of Zimbabwe."

What is sickening is how these peddlers of falsehoods on Mtetwa's immigration status have unashamedly gone on to attack her private life. All sorts of lewd names have been used to describe her relationship with former husband, mathematician, Dr David Mtetwa, a professor at the University of Zimbabwe.

Dr Mtetwa was good enough to refuse to talk about his former wife and has also requested that his privacy to be respected. These personal attacks on Mtetwa reveal another phobia at the heart of the writers who have sought to vilify her — misogyny, the hatred for women and girls. All her detractors have emerged to be men who feel threatened by her achievements and who wish to endear themselves to the system because they cannot survive outside of it.

Misogyny manifests itself in several ways such as "sexual discrimination, denigration of women, violence against women and sexual objectification of women".

Because she is woman, Mtetwa is being portrayed not as a successful legal practitioner but as an agent of foreign forces and a loose woman. There have been male lawyers who have defended human rights as robustly as Mtetwa has done but we have not seen them described in the uncharitable words that she has been described with. Some of the expletives used to describe her have shamed us a nation because they can't be used in polite society.

How many male lawyers have divorced and moved on with their lives? Have these been labelled the way Mtetwa has been by these shameless writers? The principal motive behind this denigration is to make it easy for political thugs to physically attack her when they see her on the street. We have seen how in Zimbabwe women cannot be allowed their own individuality without being labelled prostitutes. We have seen how women going about their legitimate business have been surrounded by the police and incarcerated on the false accusation that they were loitering for the purpose of prostitution. We have seen how commuter omnibus touts and louts have with impunity attacked women and girls for dressing the way they feel. The idea behind the writings we have read recently on Mtetwa is to bunch her with all the women who have been deemed unsuitable to live in our society, so she too can be a legitimate target for physical violence.

The truth of the matter is that Beatrice Mtetwa is working legally in Zimbabwe and has every right to excel in the field of her choice without discrimination. She has no apologies to make about her Swazi links in the same way that Chitepo, Mutambanengwe, Chinhengo and other Zimbawean expatriates working in foreign lands had no apologies to make for occupying the various spaces they did or still do.

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