Exploring the role of lawyers in the armed struggle

By Fungai Jachi

THE list of the country’s liberation war stalwarts would not be complete without mentioning those who worked behind the scenes.

The liberation struggle claimed the lives of dedicated men and women who tenaciously fought for the country’s freedom with nationalist leaders such as the late former President Robert Mugabe, the late Vice-President Dr Joshua Nkomo, Cdes Josiah Tongogara and Lookout Masuku, among those who were at the fore-front of the liberation struggle.

However, the list is not complete without mentioning lawyers who played an instrumental role during the liberation struggle through offering legal representation to nationalists in their endeavour to free Zimbabwe from social injustices and racial segregation.

Former Minister of Justice, Professor Simbi Mubako, who was the chief legal advisor of ZANU PF during the liberation struggle, still has recollection of the special role played by lawyers during the country’s quest for freedom.

“The major role we played as lawyers was the advisory role and of course to represent nationalists when they were detained. As the legal team we worked closely with the late ZANLA Commander Josiah Tongogara during the second Chimurenga,” he said.

Professor Mubako was also a key figure in negotiations that eventually led to an independent Zimbabwe.

“As lawyers we crafted the Mgagao Declaration, the declaration laid the foundation for the elevation of President Robert Mugabe as leader of the party at a special congress at Chimoio two years later in 1977. In 1976 I led the ZANU legal team to the Geneva Conference and the conference leading to the Lancaster House Agreement in 1979. We worked closely with a team from ZAPU with lawyers from that side who include Kennedy Sibanda,” added Professor Mubako.

He also spoke on how the judiciary landscape changed after independence.

“When I became the first black Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, I made sure the laws that were segregatory were changed to be inclusive. We changed the age of majority to 18 and gave women the same rights as men so that everyone could vote and have the choice to marry. The legal landscape changed for the better as the laws were no longer segregatory against blacks. Even the courts changed as we introduced other courts like the Supreme and Constitutional courts,” he explained.

The late Cdes Edison Sithole, Herbert Chitepo, Advocate Lot Senda, the late High Court judge Justice Washington Sansole and retired High Court judge Advocate Kennedy Sibanda are some of the luminaries who played a critical role as legal minds during the liberation struggle.