HARARE – President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s adviser Petina Gappah faces a lawsuit from Harare lawyer Fadzayi Mahere over claims made about her on Twitter one of which suggested the later tried to get into her then partner’s pants.
Gappah, who later apologised for the comments, claimed in a series of tweets that Mahere was not qualified for admission into law school at the University of Zimbabwe and that she had not worked at The Hague as her CV states while also claiming that the latter once tried to snatch her boyfriend from her.
Mahere, who received overwhelming support on Twitter, said she had decided to take legal action.
“To everyone who reached out after the defamatory, untrue allegations that were made against me on Twitter this weekend, thank you. I appreciate your support,” she said on Twitter.
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“I have instructed my lawyers to pursue the matter and hope to restore my good name. Onwards and upwards.”
The nasty spat all began with a tweet from Gappah on September 29, in which she said: “I dreamt that Zimbabwe’s most active Twitterers had stopped tweeting to write wonderful books: on politics, constitutional law, the media, business, political science and gripping memoirs. I woke up to find them tweeting. It is easier to trawl for cheap likes than to write solidly.”
In reply, Mahere tweeted: “It’s easier to tweet about the folly of Twitter than to leave people to live their lives as they choose. It’s almost like attacking lawyers who’ve never set foot in a courtroom or featured in the law reports for choosing that course. Let people be.”
Mahere’s response appeared to trigger some bottled-up rage in Gappah, an award-winning author and international lawyer who advises Mnangagwa on investment and trade.
“As someone who claims to have been an international criminal lawyer in The Hague when you were actually just an intern, you are certainly aware that there are different ways to be a lawyer. I hope you leave Twitter long enough to write even just one article. Good day to you,” Gappah shot back.
When some Twitter uses probed her further on her comments, Gappah sharpened the attacks on Mahere.
She claimed to have Mahere’s Cambridge University application essay “which I completely rewrote for her.”
“Everything I have I got through merit. It was not because my Permanent Secretary father knew people who knew people who got me into the University of Zimbabwe with not enough points, giving me a favourable advantage not enjoyed by others not favoured with a father who was a Permanent Secretary,” Gappah raged.
Mahere, Gappah went on, had been an intern at the International Criminal Court, based at The Hague, “who unfortunately failed to get the job she really and badly wanted in Den Haag, I am sure she understands how different legal systems work!”
“There is no need to lie on a CV. There is no shame in being an intern. Just don’t lie that it was a job. It was not,” Gappah motored on.
Mahere replied Gappah in five tweets, in which she said: “Hi Petina. You’ve blocked me from seeing your tweet replies due to your lies – expected. I had full academic colours and sufficient points to study at the UZ. That’s what got me in and why I received the Book Prize every year and won the All African IHL moot representing Zimbabwe.
“Whatever your gripe with my dad, leave him out of this. Just argue with me and based on fact. As a lawyer, baseless slander ought to be beneath you. You know the implications.
“You’ve never worked at the International Criminal Court so I don’t expect you to know how it works or my employment record. Having interned there in Prosecutor v Bemba, I was hired to work on the Kenya situation. I’m an international criminal lawyer whether you are at ease with that fact or not.
“I was accepted into Cambridge based on my academic and employment record. You did not rewrite my essay as you claim. In any event, my credentials spoke for themselves hence I did well there and was granted a Fellowship to work at Chambers in London.
“Stop picking on people you don’t know, creating stories that aren’t true and slandering my name and that of my family to feed your ego. It’s unbecoming and petty of someone of your stature. You’ve done it many times before and I’ve ignored it. Enough now. Let people be. Toodles.”
In interactions with people on Twitter, Gappah referred to Mahere, who has 152,000 followers on Twitter, as a “celebrity Twitterer”, adding “she is great… Just not as great as she thought she was. She needed a lot of help. I was very happy to give to her. Until she tried to do a number on me.”
She denied blocking Mahere, firing this salvo as she did so: “I haven’t blocked you at all. I don’t need to. Don’t lie. You and I know exactly how you got into UZ, how you got into Cambridge with my help and how you tried to get into my then partner’s pants. I have all the emails. Please don’t go there. Just don’t. I don’t want to. Thanks.”
Despite Mahere’s denials, she claimed to have “proof of every assertion I make.”
Gappah later said she was “sorry” and apologised to those who witnessed the spat.
“I am so sorry to all who witnessed my altercation with Fadzayi last night. It has been a long time coming but it really should not have blown up on Twitter. A number of you said I really should have been the bigger person. You are absolutely right. I should have,” Gappah said.
“I love to mentor and support ambitious younger women. I always have and am proud of the mentees in my life. I too have been mentored by older women. Unfortunately, things happened between us that created ill feeling and distrust. But that should not be discussed on Twitter.
“I have tried really hard to get over the past. Really hard. I even reached out to her two years ago only to find she had accused a dead man who could not defend himself of some horrible things. His wife, now late, was a dear friend. I found this hard to forgive.
“But the bottom line is that Twitter is not the place for any of this. I apologize to Fadzayi for my intemperate response but mostly to all of you that you had to witness this. I am genuinely sorry. I can assure you it will not happen again.”
She maintained that the target of her initial post was not Mahere.
“She genuinely was not my target. I was actually thinking of academics who spend all their time on Twitter. I was not thinking of her at all. Her crazy response was unexpected and I am sorry to say I overreacted,” she added.
In fact, she added in another tweet, she had in mind “specifically people like Jonathan Moyo who can actually write, and have insights and experience to share, but don’t.”
Moyo did not address Gappah’s initial tweet, choosing instead to criticise her comments about Mahere.
“The unrestrained personal attack on Mahere by Gappah stinks to high heaven,” Moyo tweeted.
One of the claims made by Gappah was that Mahere was not qualified for admission into the University of Zimbabwe. Mahere has obliged her, releasing her O’ Level and A’ Level certificates on Twitter.
She sat Cambridge exams for O’ Level, scoring seven As and two Bs. She obtained 15 points at A’ Level in November 2001 in History, English Language and Literature in English.
Fellow lawyer Alex Magaisa accused Gappah of bullying.
“Don’t let anyone, man or woman, bring you down. Those who besmirch your efforts have never tried. Most rise on the back of others. Stand tall,” he said in a tweet, tagging Mahere.
Magaisa added in another tweet: “I cannot stand bullies.”
Brian Kagoro, a rights activist who is also a lawyer, weighed in: “When you think that your way is the best course to live, you flaunt it and denigrate everyone and everything else. That’s until you discover that very few people actually care about your way, success and assumed status. There are many people who succeed quietly.”-Zimlive