Blind barrister breaks barriers

HARARE - Abraham Mateta, 35, shared the bench with other lawyers patiently waiting for his turn to represent a suspect arrested at Fourth Street bus terminus in connection with a murder that had occurred three days before.

His turn came and Mateta competently addressed the court, proffered his practicing certificate before advising the court that he would be applying for his client’s bail at the High Court since he faced a murder charge.

Throughout that process, no one noticed that the sharply dressed lawyer was visually impaired. It only dawned on many after he was seen being escorted out of the courtroom by Cornwell Mutevhe, a fellow legal practitioner at Muvingi and Mugadza where both are employed.

Mateta, who has become a regular face at Harare Magistrates’ Courts, completed his first law degree at the University of Zimbabwe in 2007.

Between 2008 and 2009, he joined the civic society, advocating for the rights of persons with disabilities’ rights.

He worked as an advocacy officer at Zimbabwe National League of the Blind.

“Much of my work involved advising the organisation on legal issues and sometimes awareness on basic human rights issues,” Mateta said.

“I was part of the group that contested visually-impaired people’s voting rights in 2008 where we argued that the process violated rights to privacy and the case was decided by the Supreme Court in 2008.”

Then, visually-impaired persons were only allowed to vote in the presence of two officers, another electoral officer and the presiding officer.

The Act was amended ahead of the 2013 elections, giving the visually-impaired voter the right to choose a person of choice to go into the ballot with, although still retaining the presence of the presiding officer.

“We are currently engaging relevant stakeholders on the voting issue and will take it up back to court. My problem is with political parties when they make their arguments about the elections they hardly talk about issues of disability,” added Mateta.

“I have never heard any of them talk about the communication needs of the deaf or maybe accessibility of the polling stations of physically challenged.”

Mateta said after getting his first job in government, he realised that his greatest challenge was going to be getting an assistant as the process to attain one then was long and winding.

“I didn’t have challenges getting a job but starting the job. I went for interviews like any other person but after getting my first job in the government I was told that there was need for treasury concurrence for the assistant I was going to work with.

“That process took two months and taught me that the plain field was not level and hoped to push for legislative reform.”

Mateta, who has represented clients on a number of civil and criminal cases, said his greatest challenge has been with the judiciary system’s reliance on papers in creating suspects’ records.

But that has not deterred him from seeing that the scales of justice are balanced in all cases that he has diligently handled.

“One of the things I would want to believe is that the success of a lawyer is seeing that the scales of justice are balanced. In all the cases I have dealt with so far, I have achieved fair outcomes.

“Our system relies so much on papers and sometimes if you are given the papers late you face a dilemma where sometimes it may delay proceedings as you familiarise with the paperwork and end up prejudicing your client,” said Mateta.

He feels that visually-impaired persons have not been accorded equal opportunities with their sighted counterparts and urges government to also consider their issues.

He, however, applauds society for having accommodated people with disability, saying that was a positive step towards their development.

“One of the key things we need is access to equal opportunities you could be surprised that most visually-impaired people on the streets actually have degrees but have never had a chance to practice in their respective fields of expertise.

“Section 3 of the Disabled Persons Act says there shall be a director of the disabled persons affairs whose office shall be part of the public service, however, since its enactment in 1992 we have never seen one.

“We have heard the government putting up a number of policies but never has there been a national disability policy. I really look forward to be one of the persons to improve disability law in Zimbabwe,” said Mateta.

As far as he is concerned, nothing is impossible in life.

It is for this reason that he continues to push the boundaries to prove this important point.

He has even gone as far as attaining a masters degree in International Human Rights Law at Leeds University in the United Kingdom.

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