Groucho Max, ‘considered one of America’s greatest and most gifted comedians’, said that “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedies.” This quote somewhat sums up Rre Dumelang Saleshando’s caution on his party lawyers that they think hard with their consciences should Botswana Democratic Party’s (BDP) Rre Ian Khama or prominent party leadership approach them for legal assistance. Further, Saleshando asked his party lawyers to ‘balance their professional duties with the interests of the organisation they freely and voluntarily chose to associate with.’ His gripe with Khama is that he ‘presided over a corrupt government that had minimal regard for civil liberties.’ (See Mmegi online edition dated 8 August 2018). While Saleshando’s caution is more politically expedient than anything else, it fatally infringes on the legal ethics of such lawyers as will be argued hereunder. Someone said that ‘the basic tenet of the professional responsibilities of lawyers is that every person in our society should have a ready access to independent professional services of a lawyer of integrity and competence.’ By infringing on the legal ethics of his party lawyers, Saleshando is ‘looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.’
From the outset, I fully concur with Saleshando that Khama ‘presided over a corrupt government…’ and I need not articulate the corrupt activities because I have done so in the past on this platform. Other than myself, other like-minded compatriots have done so. That said, Saleshando seems to conveniently forget that his party lawyers wear two hats against his single one. That is, these lawyers are lawyers on one hand and politicians on the other. These two vocations are not administered by the same ethical conducts- serious lawyering is a serious professional vocation underpinned by serious legal frameworks with serious consequent management should these frameworks be violated while politicking, with the greatest respect I can muster, is a free-for-all vocation where even poor souls like myself can raise a hand to enter the contest. Admission standards to enter politics are as hopelessly low as is the low success rate of the DCEC to arrest and convict the corrupt big fish. One could argue that Saleshando could very well caution his other professionals like doctors not to attend to Khama and his associates in case they sought medical assistance from them because Saleshando has a political axe to grind with Khama and them. It cannot be.
Addressing the BCP Francistown Annual Conference in July 2017, Saleshando touched on a number of issues amongst which was the infamous ‘Removal of Medical Cover for Self Inflicted Harm’ policy. He is quoted by the Sunday Standard/The Telegraph face book posting dated 27 July 2017 to have said with regards to this policy that ‘We will be challenging the formulation of this policy as it offends both the Constitution as well as the ethical conduct of the medical profession’ [My emphasis]. If this is indeed what he said, it contradicts and offends his cautionary position on professional conscience. It simply suggests that his party lawyers should exercise such conscience to deny other compatriots in the form of Khama and his associates the legal assistance for their political conducts while the medical profession shouldn’t in so far as the policy referred herein is concerned. I should state however that I concur with his presumed views on the injustice this policy would have perpetuated on the greater society in light of the duty placed on the medical profession to save lives.
I expect seasoned politicians like Saleshando to teach their followers the truth-that professionals as a matter of course from his party and elsewhere are expected to rise above narrow political expediency to offer legal or other professional assistances sought by whomsoever. It is dangerous and unfair that politicians conveniently misinform their followers in pursuit of a political agenda. I am reminded of the story of Advocate Sidney Pilane who has been bashed by some members of the opposition for offering legal services to Rre Issac Kgosi. Politicians at the leadership level did not tell their members that Pilane was not committing any professional or other crime by offering legal assistance to Kgosi however strongly they felt about them (Pilane and Kgosi). It was just a matter of scoring political points while conveniently ignoring and at the same time causing opposition members to ignore Pilane’s professional duty to members of the society notwithstanding political views one may hold.
Saleshando may however be very well vindicated strictly politically speaking that is, by Martin Luther King Jr when he said “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.” I will concede that there will be different interpretations to Martin Luther’s quote. Like I have said above, BCP lawyers wear two distinct hats of professionals and politicians. On exercising their political consciences, they would more likely or not go along with Saleshando’s caution in order to gain political mileage on the ‘balance of their professional duties with the interests of the organisation they freely and voluntarily chose to associate with.’ Lawyers-turned-politicians generally speaking, have shown overtime that once they enter the political space, they lower the bar to the extent that they behave in a manner consistent to those who have spent fewer days in a classroom. Go to parliament and see how they behave discourteously to their colleagues. British philosopher Professor Cyril Joad said that “To reduce human persons to the status of tools or things to be used for ends chosen by others is reprehensible.” There could be some professionals in the BCP who notwithstanding that they ‘….freely and voluntarily chose to associate with’ it would be willing to stick to their consciences that they have a duty to offer legal assistance to Khama and his associates regardless of what their leader (Saleshando) demands of them or better still, what wrongs Khama did politically. There could also be those who unreservedly endorse Saleshando’s caution to deny Khama and his associates their legal assistances. The choice is purely personal.
While Saleshando was making a political statement for political expediency which he is perfectly entitled to as a politician, it is in my view professionally misplaced because it was made to a wrong constituency. And while he tried to qualify his statement by saying that it was in large measure specifically directed at Khama and his associates, it somewhat and unnecessarily puts pressure on his professionals who may not agree with him on account of their ethical imperatives. It would somehow make it difficult for other professionals who may wish to join his party to do so on account that they may feel uncomfortable and compromised to offend their very legal or other ethical imperatives. We have seen in the recent past the Chairman of the EFF Advocate Dali Mpofu representing the Mayor of Cape Town Patricia De Lille who is a political opponent from the Democratic Alliance. The EFF has not had any problem with their Chairman representing political opponents because it recognises that he wears two different hats. I am not strictly suggesting though I am tempted to do so that Saleshando should follow the EFF’s route but that on a point of principle, hard core politics should to the extent possible be separated from legal and other professions.
It is my considered view at the end of the day that Saleshando’s caution on his party lawyers not to offer their legal assistance to political opponents like Khama and his associates is seriously misplaced. It goes against and offends their ethical expectations. It is politically okay for him to caution them against voting for Khama’s party but professionally undesirable for him to enter the professional space because that is not his competent terrain. Like Groucho Max said, ‘Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying wrong remedies.’ Judge for Yourself!