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On Zimbabwe's death row without a lawyer

High Court of Zimbabwe
Does Zimbabwe's High Court treat people equally?

By Brian Hungwe
Harare

After 13 years on Zimbabwe's death row, George Manyonga is still waiting to see his lawyer.

He saw him once, briefly, the day before his trial, but since then he has been left on his own.

He has lost his lawyer and now he is losing hope.

"I'm paying a price for something I never committed," Manyonga says.

"If I had a lawyer throughout my trial, the judge would have understood my concerns and acquitted me."

The world we live in today, we got soldiers of fortune, people who perform for pay
Attorney General Johannes Tomana

Manyonga's main concern during his trial in 1997 on charges of killing a security guard during a robbery was that a crucial piece of evidence - his identity card which was allegedly found at the scene of the crime - was never produced in court.

"After conviction I prepared on my own my appeal papers," he remembers.

"I tried to have a number of issues clarified, but no-one heard me."

It seems that being heard these days in Zimbabwe's courts is a privilege of the rich.

'Wish-washy' approach

In theory, Zimbabwe does offer free legal representation to the poor.

But in practise, the country's economic problems have left the Legal Aid Clinic desperately short of money - and the poor desperately short on confidence that Zimbabwean justice can ever work for them.

A hangman's noose
Zimbabwe hanged its last convict in 2004

"Yes, there have been complaints. Yes, there are still complaints that the service is poor," admits Charles Nyatanga, registrar at the High Court of Zimbabwe in the capital, Harare.

"There is a danger of a wish-washy approach which results in them [lawyers] rendering poor quality service to the persons deserving legal representation."

And there seem to be few more deserving than Manyonga.

During his several years waiting for death, he speaks of festering for 23 hours a day in solitary confinement with a plastic bag for a toilet.

"My genitals bear the scars of torture," he claims.

Brian Crozier, legal ethics lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe Law School, believes lawyers have a duty of care to clients such as Manyonga.

"Lawyers have a monopoly over representing people in court and they cannot use that monopoly merely to make money," he says.

"They must provide the best possible defence they can, particularly if the person they are representing is facing the death penalty."

There are currently 50 such people in Harare - and the last person to be hanged in Zimbabwe was in 2004.

But what can be done to help them if they have no money?

Zimbabwe's Attorney General Johannes Tomana acknowledges the poor are losing out, but believes lawyers are not necessarily philanthropists who enjoy giving their services for free.

"The world we live in today, we got soldiers of fortune, people who perform for pay, people who perform because they want to get rewarded for it equitably," he says.

Manyonga's dreams of being treated equitably ended some time ago.

And so might his life if he cannot get another lawyer soon.



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