Constitutional law expert Professor Lovemore Madhuku views fellow prominent lawyer Dr Alex Magaisa as just a “shallow and simplistic” lawyer whose legal interpretations will only survive on Twitter due to his MDC Alliance followers, while in return Magaisa remarks that Prof Madhuku’s legal opinions are pedestrian.
On Saturday, what started as a respectful legal exchange between two of Zimbabwe’s most respected legal minds – Professor Lovemore Madhuku and Dr Alex Magaisa – quickly degenerated into an intense war that ended 24 hours later. Madhuku said he views Magaisa’s widely followed BSR legal opinions as biased, shallow and simplistic.
Magaisa’s allies, Advocate Thabani Mpofu, Simukai Tinhu and Professor Jonathan Moyo fought in his corner for much of the 24 hours, but dramatically chickened out of the debate when Madhuku finally presented his argument as to why he believed Magaisa’s law opinions only work on social media.
But it goes deeper than that.
Magaisa writes weekly on his blog, Big Saturday Read, where he proffers legal opinions on various political and legal developments taking place in Zimbabwe. He has been accused of being plainly one-sided and of running a propaganda drive for MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa, who he openly supports and allegedly never criticises.
Accordingly, critics say Magaisa offers biased legal opinions and takes comfort on that the legion of Chamisa’s followers on social media consume his blog posts without criticism.
But Prof Madhuku, who has won many legal battles for the rival MDC-T and is credited with crafting the original MDC constitution back in 1999, has chosen to tackle Magaisa on his own turf: Twitter.
The bare knuckle fight between the country’s most respected legal minds erupted following the resignation in shame of Kembo Mohadi as State Vice President last week. Madhuku said Mnangagwa was right to accept Mohadi’s resignation as Vice Presidents in Zimbabwe serve at the pleasure of the Head of State and, just like Ministers, can be fired at the President’s wish.
“The opinion I gave to the media that section 96(2) of the Constitution only applies to a VP who is a running mate (and thus not applicable to current VPs) is the better view of the law. With respect, I find the article by Magaisa shallow and simplistic, unless meant for Twitter,” Madhuku hit out at the UK-based Magaisa.
This was after Magaisa had penned a widely circulated document saying President Mnangagwa had violated the Constitution by not notifying the nation of Mohadi’s resignation within 24 hours. Madhuku said the clause requiring the 24 hour window was applicable only to running mates, which would only be the case from after 2023, of which Mohadi was never a running mate of Mnangagwa’s in any case.
Stung by Madhuku’s attacks, Magaisa hit back, albeit politely.
“I look forward to reading your scholarly article on the matter, Professor. With respect, the view that was attributed to you in the media sounded very pedestrian. But being open-minded and fair, I remain open to persuasion by your second take which you have promised. Best wishes,” said Magaisa.
“It is called media freedom,” Madhuku shot back. “The journalists (who penned an article on his legal opinion) used their own language but they were very accurate in capturing my opinion that Section 96(2) was out of the question. What I will post is an extract from a manuscript.”
As is the case with political debates in Zimbabwe, the whole team of legal and political experts aligned to Chamisa stepped into the debate to support Magaisa: Advocate Thabani Mpofu, Professor Jonathan Moyo and Simukai Tinhu.
“I do not see how he (Madhuku) can maintain that view without re-writing the Constitution. Don’t expect any interpretation but a wholesale subversion,” said Mpofu, who represented Chamisa in the 2018 election petition.
Madhuku insisted that his view was that Magaisa’s legal opinions could only survive on Twitter and would be dismantled to nonsense in a competent court of law.
“It is merely my view and as I have said I will post a detailed argument in which I will seek to show that the Magaisa position can only survive on Twitter. Twitter is not an academic platform,” said the University of Zimbabwe law lecturer, who has taught law to nearly all the lawyers in the MDC Alliance and beyond.
But the strong language in Madhuku’s statements attracted rebuke from both Tinhu and Professor Moyo.
“Shallow” and ”simplistic” are words that seem aimed at evoking an emotional response. You could have made your argument clear without resorting to such language. By the way, on Twitter, Alex writes for a wide audience not law scholars or practitioners,” said Tinhu.
Jonathan Moyo said: “In fact, ‘shallow’ and ‘simplistic’ are not academic or scholarly terms by any stretch of the imagination. These are mundane Twitter, street and village terms that every Tom, Dick, Harry, Jane & Mary commonly use!”
As promised on Saturday, Madhuku yesterday evening released his detailed response to Magaisa’s legal opinion on the Vice President clause.
“Yesterday I promised to post my detailed argument in support of the legal opinion I expressed previously, namely that Section 96(2) of the Constitution does not apply to current Vice-Presidents. Hereunder is the argument,” Madhuku said last night. He attached his response.
The legal piece evoked wild jubilation from his followers who are far fewer compared to his rivals Jonathan Moyo, Magaisa and Thabani Mpofu, who command a million Twitter followers among them.
Among Madhuku’s cheering team was former Deputy Prime Minister Professor Arthur Mutambara, who reviewed Madhuku’s opinion and said Magaisa and his team had “miserably” missed key clauses in their interpretations.
“Thanks Prof Madhuku. Matter is settled,” said the robotics expert Mutambara. “You have adequately and ably put it to rest. Implied and expressed provisions – Folks had miserably missed this concept.”
When urged to comment, Professor Jonathan Moyo, apparently stung by Madhuku’s comprehensive response, said he would not be cajoled by anyone into responding, even though he had said he was waiting for Madhuku’s response.
“Hatitauri zvekumhanya isu; I’m still trying to figure out what’s scholarly or academic about this minuted personal opinion by Professor Madhuku. Content is not scholarly or academic simply or only because its author declares it to be such. On the scholarly score, hapana zviripo apa!” Professor Moyo said.
But Madhuku, apparently satisfied that he had done what his followers said the Lord’s work on the matter, never delved back into the debate and retired to bed Sunday night, knowing that he had, as he always does, won a legal battle.
Meanwhile, Magaisa and Thabani Mpofu, despite also having earlier said they were awaiting for Madhuku’s detailed opinion, were not immediately available to respond.