Visually impaired judge’s long walk to the top

03 Oct, 2021 - 00:10 0 Views
Visually impaired judge’s long walk to the top Justice Samuel Deme ( second from right)

The Sunday Mail

Fatima Bulla-Musakwa

THE metaphor connecting blindness and fair or impartial legal treatment has been portrayed through the image of a blind-folded woman who represents justice for hundreds of years.

Hence the adage, justice is blind.

Strangely, not many visually impaired people have succeeded in ascending the ladder in the justice delivery system.

Justice Samuel Deme is, however, debunking this long-standing myth.

Last week, he was among a group of newly-appointed High Court judges who stood before Chief Justice Luke Malaba to take their oath of office.

Justice Deme shattered the long-standing glass ceiling after becoming Zimbabwe’s first ever visually impaired High Court Judge.

The Masvingo province native lost his eyesight at the age of six after suffering from measles while staying in rural Gutu.

Born in a poverty-stricken family, he had to go against the odds in order to land in the top echelons of the judiciary.

In school he had to rely on the Department of Social Welfare for his tuition fees.

At Kapota School for the Blind in Masvingo, where he did his primary education from 1985 to 1992, he exhibited traits of a child prodigy.

He later proceeded to Mutendi High School for his secondary school studies.

After passing his Advanced Levels with flying colours, Justice Deme enrolled at the University of Zimbabwe where he studied and completed a Bachelor of Laws Honours (LLB) degree.

For a visually impaired student, life at university was no bed of roses.

Because there was no Braille reading material at university, he relied on friends and relatives to read out aloud for him.

“During our time at university, it was difficult to get textbooks in Braille,” he told The Sunday Mail.

“At Kapota, I had to rely on friends who read out textbooks for me.

“During those years we used tape recorders to record our friends reading for us.

“Sometimes, I would go through three Shona novels per night using the tape recorder.”

Missing a lecture at the UZ meant it would be near impossible for him to catch up with the rest of his colleagues.

His experience with poverty served as the fuel behind his hard work, determination and strong resolve.

Fortunately for him, the university had a programme that offered incentives to students who volunteered to be assistants to their visually impaired colleagues.

“At university I still had a lot of challenges in terms of the resources when I did my first degree.

“So, I had to rely on friends and relatives who would read for me.

“The university at that time had a programme which provided our personal assistants with free accommodation.

“They were given priority accommodation as an incentive, otherwise it was going to be difficult for us.

“There was also limited reading material in Braille,” said Justice Deme.

After successfully enduring the challenges through stoic resilience, Justice Deme obtained a Master’s degree in Women’s Law in
2010.

For close to nine and half years from 2003, he worked as the principal officer in the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs representing paupers in courts.

He provided legal assistance to disadvantaged groups of people who included women and persons with disabilities, helping to ensure their rights were respected.

He said his major motivation in undertaking that kind of work were his experiences with poverty earlier in his life.

His life experiences, Justice Deme said, helped him appreciated the circumstances of needy people.

“I was a major beneficiary of voluntary services from my friends who used to read for me from secondary to university level,” he said.

Justice Deme said his appointment will help inspire young people living with disabilities.

“Only the sky is the limit, disability does not mean inability. Challenges should be construed as opportunities. There is no challenge which has no solution.

“Every challenge should normally inspire someone to be innovative,” he said.

After taking the oath and signing his letter of appointment last week, Justice Deme was warmly congratulated by Chief Justice Malaba.

He said his appointment to the High Court bench offered him an opportunity to serve his country.

“I am excited; I am already motivated by the fact that I am facing a new challenge. Before being registered as a legal practitioner, I took a similar oath which obliged me to be faithful to Zimbabwe.

“But now I think this has added another dimension of upholding the Constitution because as a judicial officer we are supposed to be the custodians of the Constitution, promoters of the Constitution in order to ensure that the rights of citizens are upheld.”

 

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