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‘THROUGH THE NARROW DOOR’: NARRATIVES OF THE FIRST GENERATION OF AFRICAN LAWYERS IN ZIMBABWE

Abstract
ABSTRACT

Given the important role played by lawyers in formal legal systems, the study of legal professionals can help us understand the efforts to maintain law and social order in Africa. This article examines the narratives of two Zimbabwean lawyers, Kennedy Sibanda and Honour Mkushi, about their experiences as legal professionals between 1970 and 1990, and makes three main arguments. Firstly, these narratives reveal the complex interplay between individual agency, politics and law across the two decades. Secondly, lawyers' participation in the social and political struggles of the period were informed by a set of personal and professional ethics that were grounded in concerns about the welfare of the wider communities to which they belonged. This highlights the need to avoid a default cynicism with regard to African elites and move instead towards a more nuanced understanding of the motives of such individuals and their contribution to the social, economic and political struggles of which they are a part. Lastly, these lawyers were cross-cultural brokers who were constantly involved in a two-way translation. On the one hand, they translated the concepts and stipulations of state law for their African clients; on the other, they translated their clients' grievances into the language of the law. This process of translation acted as a catalyst in the reshaping of African subjectivities and their conceptions of their relationship with the state, and enabled Africans to assert themselves as rights-bearing citizens.

RÉSUMÉ

Compte tenu du rôle important que jouent les avocats dans les appareils judiciaires formels, l’étude des professionnels du droit peut nous aider à comprendre l'action de maintien de l'ordre juridique et social en Afrique. Cet article examine les récits de deux avocats zimbabwéens, Kennedy Sibanda et Honour Mkushi, sur leurs expériences en tant que professionnels du droit entre 1970 et 1990, et présente trois principaux arguments. Premièrement, ces récits révèlent l'interaction complexe entre l'action individuelle, la politique et la loi au cours de ces décennies. Deuxièmement, la participation des avocats aux luttes sociales et politiques de cette période était informée par un ensemble d’éthiques personnelles et professionnelles fondées sur le souci du bien-être des communautés auxquelles ils appartenaient. Ceci souligne la nécessité d’éviter un cynisme par défaut à l’égard des élites africaines et de s'orienter plutôt vers une compréhension plus nuancée des motifs de ces personnes et de leur contribution aux luttes sociales, économiques et politiques dont ils faisaient partie. Troisièmement, ces avocats étaient des intermédiaires interculturels constamment impliqués dans une traduction bidirectionnelle. D'une part, ils traduisaient les concepts et les stipulations du droit étatique pour leurs clients africains; d'autre part, ils traduisaient les griefs de leurs clients en langage juridique. Ce processus de traduction a servi de catalyseur dans le remodelage des subjectivités africaines et leurs conceptions de leur relation avec l’État, et a permis aux Africains de s'affirmer en tant que citoyens porteurs de droits.

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Africa
  • ISSN: 0001-9720
  • EISSN: 1750-0184
  • URL: /core/journals/africa
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