By Felix Chiroro
AT its formation in 1999, the opposition MDC was accused of having too many lawyers at the top. The lawyers, critics said, were crowding out other professionals and artisans in the party such that the organisation would eventually be crippled in terms of its decision making and strategic direction.
Twenty years on, there are even far too many lawyers in the top echelons of the MDC Alliance in particular than ever before. Party president Nelson Chamisa, who had no training in law back them, subsequently acquired his law degree a decade ago.
Job Sikhala, who had halted his law studies long back, also latched onto the new wave in town while many other fresh, young lawyers joined the opposition party along the journey.
To add to the growing number of lawyers controlling the party, party spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere, also a lawyer, joined the MDC Alliance in 2019.
It even remains debatable if being too “lawyer-heavy” at the top has affected the party in any way, for good or for bad. However, what is increasingly clear is that even Zanu PF politicians are rushing to acquire law degrees as if in a haste.
According to information on the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) portal, normal entry into a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) honours degree “is very competitive” such that “in recent years the minimum entry qualification has been 15 A-Level points,” the university says.
It adds that: “Since 2010, the competition for study vacancies has increased so much that only candidates with 15 A Level points are guaranteed a place.”
The politicians have a way around the demanding entrance requirements: the UZ offers mature entry and special entry into the programme saying these categories are “reserved for the candidates who are either magistrates or prosecutors working for the Judicial Service Commission and the Ministry of Justice.”
The degree is completed in four years on full-time basis. The part-time category, the favourite and convenient option for the politicians, takes six years for one to graduate. All that many years hasn’t deterred Zimbabwe’s politicians to hunt for a law degree.
While politicians have been pursuing education outside their main areas of interest, it was the trio of Professor Jonathan Moyo, Saviour Kasukuwere and Patrick Zhuwao who in 2015 popularised the rush for law degrees when they pioneered the UZ’s part-time LLB (Hons) programme.
The three were Cabinet Ministers at the time, and were men of means with very solid academic backgrounds in other fields of pursuit. They were surely not enrolling into law school to end up being junior lawyers at some law firm, observers said.
Had the events of November 2017 which toppled Robert Mugabe’s government not happened, Professor Moyo, Kasukuwere and Zhuwao would have graduated with law degrees last week at the UZ.
A day after their colleagues graduated at the UZ, the three former Ministers on Saturday fondly shared their experiences and congratulated the pioneering class.
Alongside the three, the class of 2015 part-time law students included at least three other prominent politician and Goromonzi West MP Energy Mutodi, Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga and Melody Dziva.
Mutodi graduated this Friday and on Sunday held a private celebration ceremony in Borrowdale.
Misihairabwi-Mushonga’s journey towards a law degree was probably cut short after the MDC-T legislator was last year appointed Zimbabwe’s Ambassador to Sweden. Efforts to verify if she ever completed her studies drew blanks.
Dziva, a rising Zanu PF Youth League member, sadly died from cancer in December 2020.
Other Zanu PF politicians who have gone on to enrol for law degrees via mature entry are Chegutu West MP Dexter Nduna, and Nyanga South legislator Supa Mandiwanzira. The first one is still pursuing his studies at the UZ while Mandiwanzira has graduated, joining the ever-growing list of lawyers in the Zimbabwean body politic.
Both the two politicians are men of means, who surely are not getting into law for some future job at some law firm. So, why are they getting into law?
In the quest to find out why there was an apparent high demand for law degrees by politicians especially from Zanu PF, this writer enquired with some of the politicians in question.
“I am studying law so that I enhance my three roles in Parliament which are legislative, representational and oversight in nature,” said Nduna, a former Air Force of Zimbabwe pilot and a veteran of the DR Congo campaign.
Nduna is also a miner and businessman with quite an impressive portfolio.
“Knowledge of law compliments my work as a legislator. Knowledge of law is the basis for robust and resilient oversight role and representative work which I do in Parliament,” adds Nduna, who this year has been one of the most pro-active member of the National House of Assembly.
On his part, Kasukuwere congratulated the graduating class. “Congratulations to all colleagues who graduated today (Friday). I wish them the best in this exciting field. I am sure one day we shall meet again,” he said.
Asked by this writer why politicians were showing more interest in pursuing law than other pursuits such as medicine, IT or engineering, Kasukuwere was blunt.
“Politicians are studying law so they can best oppress people,” he chuckled, and would not engage further.
Former deputy Minister Energy Mutodi said he will use his law qualification “to ensure Zimbabwe realises its needs, targets and aspirations”.
The law degree adds to a host of various other academic qualifications Mutodi now has amassed. He did not respond when asked if his various other academic qualifications could not help him ensure Zimbabwe realises its aspirations.
Probably the best explanation came from Mandiwanzira, a top media businessman and trained journalist who mostly appears media-shy.
“It is not true that more Zimbabwean politicians are now studying law. If you look at the number of graduating students in my class, you’ll find that there more soldiers, magistrates, police officers, teachers, prosecutors and intelligence (CIOs) operatives studying law than there were politicians.
“The actual issue is that unlike the groups I have mentioned above, politicians generally attract more attention hence we generate this debate. As politicians, we generally have a huge following of people who like what we do, and also another huge following which doesn’t like what we do. So in the end, whatever we do attracts public attention, leading to this kind of conversation we are having.”
Mandiwanzira, however, said it was important for people involved in law making such as legislators to have an appreciation of how laws have helped advanced society.
“When you’re a Member of Parliament for instance, a study of law empowers you to understand how laws have been used to advance the causes of imperialism, white supremacy, black majority rule, black empowerment as well as to advance interests of various groups.
“Even when one is in the Executive arm of Government, it is equally important to have an understanding law.”
Mandiwanzira reckoned that the arm of Government with the most people studying law was not the politicians in Parliament or Government, but the Government staff in the Judiciary.
As the debate rages on, it is important to point out that the country’s history is full of trained lawyers who delved into politics (or the other way round?). Names that come to mind include the late Herbert Chitepo, President Mugabe and current President Mnangagwa, among a long list of many others.
Also, this is not a uniquely Zimbabwean phenomena as South Africa, Zambia, the US, and many other countries have a huge number of former Presidents and top politicians who have law backgrounds.
In the opposition MDC Alliance, for example, critics blame the “too many” lawyers for the party’s lack of street activism that spurred it to international prominence in the early days of Morgan Tsvangirai, himself a labour organizer.
Maybe that criticism is a bit harsh, but whatever value the law degree has to our politicians, that value appears to be more than just about money or the quest for knowledge.
“Politicians are studying law so they can best oppress people,” said Kasukuwere in jest. He better be kidding.