Prison Officers’ Workshops
Legal aid is not readily available in Zimbabwe and the LRF’s legal services offer relief to the indigent, regardless of gender, political orientation or cultural beliefs, enabling clients to access justice that otherwise would be beyond their reach.
Statements from state officials garnered during monitoring and evaluation visits to Nyanga illustrate the impact of the LRF’s work. An Assistant Inspector for the Victim Friendly Unit in Nyanga underlined the importance of the LRF:
“Usually when LRF closes in December we face challenges of where to refer people, we also face challenges when paralegals are working three days a week because that creates a very huge gap.”
The Assistant District Administrator highlighted the significance of the LRF’s work in the community when he said:
“Our people are very poor and not everyone is capable of paying lawyers, so the LRF is closing that gap.”
How clients came to know about LRF
LRF lawyer, Sibonginkosi Hlabanagana, advises a client
The assistance was rendered in different ways and alternative dispute resolution methods were utilised where possible as being quicker, less expensive and, given that the opposing parties often live in the same neighbourhood, avoiding conflict. 9,474 people came to the LRF to seek legal assistance during the year. 63% of clients were female and 56% of cases handled were from the rural areas, as the LRF reached the most vulnerable in the community.
“When I was referred to your offices by the clerk at the court with the summons, I was hesitant to approach your offices thinking that you charge consultation fees before giving advice. However, the attention I got from your office was overwhelming. The information you gave to me and the pamphlet helped me a lot as I wanted to settle my debt but didn’t know how to respond through court. My case is over now because I have paid. Thank you for your professional and friendly advice.”
Distribution of clients by gender
The most prevalent cases involved property rights, deceased estates, and gender-based violence. Most men brought cases relating to economic rights such as pension disputes, property rights and debt collections whilst women tended to bring cases of gender-based violence and maintenance.
Type of cases handled by the LRF
Clients waiting for legal service at LRF Bulawayo
The LRF does not have the human resources capacity to appear in court for all its clients but uses its expertise to prepare court papers for the client to use as a self-actor. The clients are then coached so that they understand the process and have the confidence to represent themselves.
“I want to thank the LRF for assisting me to get a share of the property after dissolving the union. My husband had lawyers assisting him, but I managed to get my share as a self-actor, thank you LRF, help others with similar problems the same way.”
LRF Bulawayo Centre Manager, Muchaneta Mundopa, giving legal advice to clients at a legal aid clinic
See statistics at the end of the report for analysis of types of cases
A total of 7,282 cases were resolved during the year, through drafting of legal documents, giving clients legal advice and through Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). The use of less expensive methods of resolving cases make LRF legal services more efficient and relevant, assisting more people with fewer resources and within a short period of time.
“I was assisted free of charge. When I arrived I was received with a warm welcome and I narrated my problem and they took their time to listen. An application for protection order was drafted for me and I went to court where a protection order was granted against my abusive husband. I am grateful for the assistance I got; I will refer other vulnerable people in the community to your offices for assistance”.
Methods of resolving cases
SM a 70 year old widow from Gutu was assisted with an application for guardianship. She had been looking after her two grandchildren without any assistance from the children’s mother who had since re-married. The children’s father was deceased. The children’s mother was getting pensions in respect of the two children and spending the money on her new family. The client had attempted to access the pensions but could not succeed without a certificate of guardianship. She has since been awarded guardianship of her two grandchildren. A testimonial she filed with us in the translated version says:
“I had a problem when my son L.M. died and left two minor children and a pregnant wife. The wife soon after birth left the homestead and said she was going to look for employment and she never came back. As a result I had problems looking after the children for a long time. The children’s mother started getting benefits from NSSA but could not look back to her children she had left me with as she had re-married. Instead she was spending the money on her new family. After being troubled by this problem, I spoke to others who advised me to approach the Legal Advice Centre. They promised me that at this office my problems would come to an end. Indeed I came and I was assisted with everything free of charge and this helped me so much that today I am now able to look after my grandchildren, paying all outstanding school fees, clothes and food. Honestly, I was assisted with respect, keep it up you help us a great deal.”
During a prison visit to Plumtree Prison, LRF lawyers interviewed a minor malewho had been in custody for five months without trial. This meant that he was effectively serving before he had been found guilty by the courts. The centre lawyer made an application for bail at Plumtree Magistrates’ Court but bail was denied when the State declared that a trial date had been set for 21st October. On the date of the trial the young man appeared, represented by LRF and was told that the matter would now be postponed to 17th November as there was no magistrate available. On 17th November the matter was not heard as the State papers were not ready and the State witnesses were absent. An appeal was made to the High Court against the refusal to grant the LRF’s client bail. The matter was heard on 8th December, when the State again opposed bail, stating that the matter was set for trial for 10th December. Since the State had not notified the LRF of this, despite the fact that they were aware that LRF was representing the minor child, the judge ruled against the state, granting bail to the minor child. The judge also took into account the fact that the young man had been incarcerated for eight months.
The LRF’s client had been married for 12 years in an unregistered customary law union when she was evicted from the matrimonial home by her husband without anything except the clothes she was wearing. The husband, a soldier, had so intimidated her that she would not attempt to get her clothes from their shared residence. She approached LRF Masvingo and was assisted with summons for the sharing of property on the basis of unjust enrichment. She received a judgment in her favour and the LRF is now assisting her with the writ of execution so that she can fully benefit.
The LRF assisted a mother of three minors married in terms of the unregistered customary law union. The client’s husband approached the civil courts in Mutare seeking to evict her and the minor children from their matrimonial home in Dora. Legal representation was provided and the court dismissed the husband’s claim because the three minor children were still attending school and to move them would cause serious disruption to their education. The court also ruled that as the client’s husband had not offered alternative accommodation for her or the three children eviction would be tantamount to throwing them on the streets. One of the client’s children said:
“We would like to thank you for the great job you did, May God’s power which resides in you help others as well”
Client M in Masvingo suffered injuries through electrocution by ZESA cables. Through LRF’s intervention an out of court settlement was reached and ZESA offered to pay $7,000 in full and final settlement of the claim against the $10,000 which LRF had claimed on behalf of client. The client accepted the offer of $7,000.