Saturday, 19 November 2016

Advocate Fadzayi Mahere: A Champion for the People

Images by Zash Chinhara. Words by Zanele Mhlaba

Advocate Fadzayi Mahere is the type of person that will make you think twice before you speak. Not because she looks particularly unfriendly or intimidating, but because you can tell she will take you to task. 

The Harare native is everything that you would expect based on stereotypes about lawyers- well spoken, probing, quick-thinking and always ready to ask you to follow your statement through to its logical conclusion.

By the age of 14, the daughter of a nurse and a teacher had already decided that she wanted to be a lawyer. Since then, she has strategically built a name for herself within the legal fraternity. It is not uncommon to find her name mentioned in major cases. Most recently she argued and won a mobile tariff battle between regulatory agency, POTRAZ, and Econet Wireless, one of the largest corporates in the country. She was also involved in a case dealing with removing the remaining women on death row, after our new Constitution was adopted. In 2013, she argued a landmark dual citizenship case against the Registrar General and prior to that she assisted displaced white farmers with land claims.

Mahere is instructed on cases dealing with a variety of issues and she is always up for the challenge. “I’ve got a duty to represent whoever briefs me and give them a competent service. Even if the client is a vilified one, I’ll still take up the case because everyone has a right to legal representation,” she explains. Within minutes of speaking to her, it becomes evident that Mahere understands the gravity of the responsibility she has, as an intermediary between the bench and citizens.

Advocate Mahere is a fierce competitor and that has always carried over into all that she does. Her success has not been accidental. It has come as a result of her laser-sharp focus on achieving her goals. “I’ve always been bossy, always been neat and always been curious,” she says. At the age of 16, while still a student at Harare’s Arundel School, Mahere took up a two-week internship at a law firm. “One thing I picked up very quickly was that the quickest entry into Legal Practice was to train here (Zimbabwe),” she recalls. While many of her classmates from the elite private school jetted overseas for university, she stayed in Harare and enrolled at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ).

Coming from a well-resourced private high school, one would expect the transition to UZ to be a difficult one for Mahere but true to form, she focused on the larger picture. “I quickly got over the fact that people saw me as different and I just did what I was there to do, I was there to train at law and everything else was periphery,” she says. Unlike the high school that she attended, UZ exposed her to a larger and more diverse cross section of people. “I got lots of insights into how different people from rural schools, mission schools and government schools think; how they relate to things and how they view the world,” she explains. These interactions with Zimbabweans from all walks of life equipped her with a more robust understanding of the people that she now serves and works with. It is difficult to ignore the criticisms of the quality of education at the University of Zimbabwe but Mahere is full of praises for her Alma mater. Although she describes her time at UZ as an “absolute culture shock,” she believes it was an important experience that served its purpose for her.

Mahere also studied at England’s storied, Cambridge University. She lights up as she discusses being selected as a Pegasus Scholar; describing the experience as the best year of her life. “It’s always great to have the value of having studied abroad and here. To have those two experiences, there is no substitute for.” Despite doing well at Cambridge and enjoying London, her plan was to return to Zimbabwe. “I’ve always been passionate about issues surrounding Zimbabwe because there’s a lot of growth and development that’s waiting to happen. I really want to be a part of that. When you go to more developed countries, there’s very little more that can be done to develop them. Here, I can teach, I go to the Constitutional Court, I attend Supreme Court,” she explains. These sentiments should not be mistaken as a desire to be “a big fish in a small pond.” To Mahere, Zimbabwe is as good a place as any to do challenging and exciting legal work.

After qualifying as an attorney, Mahere went a step further and became an Advocate after gaining the requisite 36 months of experience. According to Mahere, only more serious or complicated cases may require an advocate. Advocates cannot be accessed directly by the public; they must be instructed by an attorney. When asked to describe her job in the simplest way she says, “an advocate is someone who specialises in going to court.” Arguing in Zimbabwe’s highest courts has given Mahere an edge. She recognises that it is a privilege to be able to do so. “No matter how brilliant I was to ever become in London, I just would have never reached the Court of Appeal. It’s difficult enough for a woman who was born there and what more for a random Zimbabwean woman,” she reflects.

When Mahere first started working at Advocates’ Chambers she was the only woman and younger than most, in the office. “It was very boysy and they were a little unforgiving, but I’ve settled in,” she says. Most young women would rightfully feel unsure or intimidated in that position. Mahere shares that she would like to see women being treated as men’s equals, “in the sense that people shouldn’t look at the fact that you are a woman when deciding whether to interact with you, particularly in a professional setting but also in a cultural one.” She acknowledges how difficult this is. Even in her own work, she has encountered challenges. “People sometimes think that because you’re woman, you’re not going to be as assertive running their case, that you’re not going to be as tough in court.” Her response is to let her demeanour and work speak for itself. She is intent on making sure that each time she leaves the court, there is no doubt in anyone’s minds about her competence.

There is a different kind of pressure that women in male-dominated professions face. However Mahere’s focus is on her own standards which have very little do with gender. She wants to be the best, not just the best woman. Her advice for other women comes from what she has always done – focus on performing well. “People reward hard work, they reward someone who is competent, who is thorough, who is capable. So, very quickly people will get over the fact that you’re a woman and that you’re young.” She believes excellence is one of the best ways to overcome challenges in the workplace. However, she is neither naive nor blind to the problems that women face, in her field. “I know a lot of younger women who are trying to get into law, it’s not always easy because a lot of the people are male, just because of the history of the profession. So where I can help a woman out, I definitely will.”

In a field that puts a premium on being tough and aggressive, it is no surprise that Mahere comes across as intense and all about business. She has had to learn to play the game, so to speak. But underneath it all, she is a passionate advocate for others. “I’m not so hardcore that I stop listening and that I’m unfeeling, everyone has a soft side. I’m happy to have that,” she explains. Advocate Mahere has an internal drive that pushes her to continuously seek growth and challenge herself to reach new heights. She recognises that her own success comes from how well she serves others and that is ultimately all she wants to do.

Makeup: Makeup by Gamu (Gamu Manyika)
Hair: Therezia Shadreck
Interview: Gamuchirai Chinamasa
Production Assistants: Nokuthula Moyo and Terri Mariri
Advocate Fadzayi Mahere: A Champion for the People
Editor's Note: A version of this article originally appeared in Issue 2 of Induna Magazine. Released 7 May 2015.

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