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Why stick around poisonous relatives?

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“The doctor sees all the weakness of mankind; the theologian all the stupidity; the lawyer all the wickedness,” said German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860).

echoes: CONWAY TUTANI

So it was this week when I was told to my face by “somebody’s” lawyers that I had wilfully destroyed my father’s will. This was at the third and final edict meeting at the Master of the High Court for the administration of my late father’s estate. Well, to say I got angry is an understatement. I haven’t been angry like that in a long, long time because I have mellowed into a laid-back person, who is not easily rattled.

Despite growing a thick skin from the insults and even death threats I get from writing hard-hitting articles about powerful people, I could not take the wicked lie lying down. I had to respond there and then. Barely controlling my anger, I rose from the wooden bench and told the court in no uncertain terms: “I am not a lawyer, but I am educated enough, intelligent enough, knowledgeable enough, astute enough and smart enough and not that stupid to know that I cannot approach the court with dirty hands.” “Dirty hands” arises when a party, who has approached the court, has their application thrown out because he/she has done something unethical in relation to the subject — like destroying a will.

I am sure many other people have been in my position. If it’s hanging dirty linen in public, so be it than allow malevolent elements to propagate and perpetuate lies. These things need to be exposed because the system needs to be changed.

I told the court that a lawyer needs both the law and logic, that you can’t have one without the other, saying I had placed it on record before the court at the very first meeting that the will existed, thus, how could I mention the existence of a document I had allegedly destroyed? Were they implying that I had reported myself like a self-incriminating blunderer?

I said taking advantage of the fact that judges, lawyers, witnesses and other parties are absolutely protected from defamation actions in judicial proceedings in court was most unethical. It’s not that the law is bad, but that lawyers — too many of them — are bad. I told the court that the lawyers very well knew that the accusation against me was not provable, but still went ahead to present it in court. I asked them to tell me how, where and when I destroyed the will. All I got were blank faces. For practical purposes, these “learned friends” and their client had defamed me, but for legal purposes they had not and they might as well have been chuckling inside. Should I consider suing for perjury, as I understand it’s the only recourse we laypeople have in the court system? Yes, we need justice, but we also need grace, civility and common sense from lawyers, not to only focus on loopholes and sophistry to get their clients over the line. This is exactly what made French essayist, Jean Giraudoux (1882-1944) say: “Lawyers are those who lie, conceal and distort everything, and slander everybody.”

Getting angrier, I continued: “As a journalist, I am in the truth-telling business, unlike lawyers who are paid to lie on behalf of their clients.” My parting shot was inspired by this titbit I came across long back: A man is facing prosecution. The judge asks him: “Don’t you need a lawyer?” The man replies: “No, I don’t need any, I’m going to tell the truth.” And that’s exactly what I did this week: I didn’t need a lawyer because I was telling the truth, and nothing else, but the truth. As a result, I walked out of the court with my head held high, not with the tail between my legs. Why would I need a lawyer? Without going into details, everything I said from the very beginning checked out factually.

It was clearly a straightforward issue, which some people were deliberately trying to complicate for their own purposes. Despite inheritance laws all over the world being clear, people being people always contrive to upend them in their favour. Remember when Winnie Madikizela-Mandela tried to claim Nelson Mandela’s rural home for herself in 2014 after the former South African President died in 2013 after he had, quite rightly so, left her out of his will because she had been given her share in their divorce settlement in 1996? It is to the court’s immense credit that she lost the case even with her contingent of lawyers, who encouraged her on this lost cause in order to line their pockets.

As usual, the situation was poisoned even further by meddlesome relatives. It was my legal duty to register the estate — a responsibility prescribed by the law as the next of kin — but after I did that, crazy talk erupted from the usual suspects in the extended family that my intention was to sell the property and pocket the money. Can you imagine? Would the Master of the High Court have conceivably allowed me to do that? It was also a waste of time telling these detractors about the required estate tax — tax based on the value of the property of a deceased person, and charged on the personal representatives of the deceased and beneficiaries of the estate.

Furthermore, I had to fend off interlopers — those “know-it-all” relatives, who interfere, intrude or get involved where they are not welcome, particularly self-interested intruders. They brought in extraneous issues that had nothing to do with the estate, poisoning the toxic atmosphere even further. I learnt that, for instance, when you see a person wearing the habit or uniform of a nun, whether Catholic — or even the Methodist uniform — don’t be deceived into thinking you have seen the holiest of the holy. The habit of a nun can hide many things. See the actual person in that uniform. Wickedness can lurk beneath.

Inevitably — not regrettably, not at all — lifelong relationships have irretrievably broken down after all the toxic stuff. One should not be afraid to break out of a stifling situation. There is no apology to make about moving on. And there’s nothing philosophical about it. It’s a fact that any organisation — family setting included — has fissiparous tendencies, meaning that as families grow bigger, they fragment. They break up into parts or break away from the main body, ultimately dividing into separate groups or factions. Factionalism did not start with Zanu PF.

Wrote lawyer, Miriam Tose Majome: “… it takes the death of parents anywhere to tear a family apart and bring out the worst traits in siblings, who once blissfully shared bathtubs and beds.”

If your relatives have become toxic to you, you are better off without them. It’s not burning bridges, but breaking out of a poisonous atmosphere. No one deserves that. Only a masochist would remain in such an environment. Life is too short for you to stay put in the face of such wickedness.

I’m outta here!

Conway Nkumbuzo Tutani is a Harare-based columnist. Email: nkumbuzo@gmail.com

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