JUST three years in the law industry, he has made legal gurus bow their heads when he appears in court though he cannot see.
He calls himself the only blind man who can see law.
His name is Mr Hastings Sithole (29) who is employed as a law officer by the Legal Aid Directorate in Mutare.
Mr Sithole obtained his law degree at University of Zimbabwe where he was assisted by the university’s former Vice-Chancellor, Professor Levi Nyagura to enrol for his studies under a programme that assists people living with disabilities.
He was born partially blind, but his eyesight became poorer as he grew up, resulting in medical experts recommending the removal of his eyes as he had glaucoma, which is incurable.
“I was born partially blind. As I was growing up my sight became poorer and my eyes were removed. I had glaucoma which is incurable. My first eye was removed in 2003 and the second one in 2005 when I was in Grade Four,” said Mr Sithole.
Glaucoma is a condition that damages one’s eyes’ optic nerve.
It gets worse over time and its often linked to a build-up of pressure inside one’s eye.
Glaucoma tends to run in families and most people with the condition have no early signs and symptoms or even feel any pain.
The increased pressure in one’s eye, called intraocular pressure, can damage one’s optic nerve which sends images to the brain.
If the damage worsens, glaucoma can cause permanent vision loss or total blindness within a few years.
While at UZ, Mr Sithole said as he could not read hard copy scripts he would ask his colleagues to help him by reading them to him. Most of the documents were hard copies.
“I enrolled at UZ from 2013 to 2018 and we were 120 students. I managed to cope well with other students because they treated me like any other students. My university days were not as bad as you may think.
“My major challenge would come when we were given hard copy material and I had to ask my friends to read them for me, especially Law reports which would always come in hard copies. It is different with soft copies, I would use online applications to read for me.
“Everything I needed was catered for while at school. I had an assistant whose residence fees were catered for by the university. He would only pay for his tuition,” said Mr Sithole.
Mr Sithole said his clients believe in him as they hardly notice that he is visually impaired. He said he has won over 80 percent of his cases.
“Most of my clients do not realise that I am blind. When they consult me, I serve them in an exceptional way. I can type using an application called NVDA and I can do anything that a person who can see can do.
“Usually a client who realises that I am blind would ask me to type or see how I draft my legal proceedings and I would show them. At the end of the day, it is all about winning the cases and they will always be satisfied,” said Mr Sithole.
He added: “I can acclimatise to a place by just staying there for a few minutes. I can walk in the passage and no one will notice that I am blind. They can only notice that when I remove my glasses.”
In his carrier, he has faced so many challenges, as some clients doubt his capabilities of successfully representing them in court.
“I know that some lawyers look down upon me and feel pity for my clients, not knowing that I am good at what I do. It is their lack of trust and discouragement that keeps me going. Some will be surprised when I get a positive verdict in some cases they would expect me to perform dismally.
“For example, recently I won a case by absolution from instants where the complainant was demanding assault damages of $150 000 and I was representing the respondent. Every lawyer would tell you that it is impossible to win by absolution from instants, but with the overwhelming evidence that the complainant had produced I still won the case.
“I also successfully defended a murder case in which the accused was asked to pay a fine of $25 000 by the High Court. The deceased died after a fist-fight with the accused, so I managed to have the charge being reduced from murder to assault. The matter was between the State and Takudzwa Mandikate,” said Mr Sithole.
He added: “Usually when you underestimate someone, you will be in for a rude awakening. It is not that I always win my cases. I remember I lost this case of a 72-year-old man and a 32-year-old man who had raped a nine-year-old girl. I believe everyone has the right to legal aid and we will not deprive anyone of that service. The two men were convicted and they are currently serving their time.”
Mr Sithole has an assistant, Mr Takudzwa Matengabadza who assists him to execute his duties.
Mr Matengabadza said he stays and works well with Mr Sithole as he is an understanding person.
“I am not only his assistant, but I am also his housemate. He cleans, cooks and washes dishes at home. We understand each other well because we grew up together in Chakohwa. We attended the same school at Chakohwa, though he was transferred while he was doing Grade Four, but he would always come back to play marimba for expatriates from Norway.
“Hastings is a multi-talented man. He likes playing marimba, guitars and pianos. He has this sixth sense that most of us do not have. When it comes to his work as a lawyer, I trust him. He knows what he is doing. I never studied law, but now I can guide and assist people on the procedures they should take in legal matters, all because of him,” said Mr Matengabadza.
Legal Aid Directorate’s executive assistance in Mutare, Mrs Taisekwa Ngwarwi, said Mr Sithole is time conscious and very hardworking.
She said Mr Sithole is a jolly good fellow who is also full of jokes.
“Hastings cracks a lot of jokes. He keeps everyone laughing when he is around. He is just a comedian. I have also learnt that he is not a person who can be easily influenced, but he is the one who influences people and I remember making a joke with him that he reminds me of [the late Paul] Matavire. People just have a wrong perception of people with disabilities. He does most of his things on his own. He just calls his assistant to assist on a few issues.
“In terms of work ethics, he is dedicated and assists all clients diligently. Very few people will notice his visually impairment until it comes to paperwork that is when he needs help. We work with him very well,” she said.