Driven by fight for justice
‘If they imprisoned my dad, I was going to be there to set him free."
With those words, Nothando Musesengwa, nee Gwaze, emerged from the Christchurch courthouse as an enrolled lawyer.
In the same courtroom where her father, George Gwaze, was acquitted of raping and murdering his 10-year-old niece, Charlene Makaza, the 28-year-old yesterday swore her oath and was admitted to the roll of barristers and solicitors.
Her father's fight to clear his name inspired her career choice, she said.
"I always told myself, if they imprisoned my dad, I was going to be there to set him free. I was going to be his lawyer," Musesengwa said.
George Gwaze, now 62, was first tried and acquitted of the charges in 2008.
The Crown appealed and, in May 2010, the Supreme Court ordered a new trial.
Musesengwa was a law student during his retrial in 2012 but said it only made her study harder.
She slept in the same room as Charlene, who had HIV, when the girl died in January 2007.
Musesengwa staunchly defended her father, a former veterinarian in Zimbabwe, and she says she saw and heard nothing during the night, and that her cousin's death was from natural causes.
When he was found not guilty a second time, it was the "greatest feeling ever", she said yesterday.
"There were many times we lost hope. We had faith in our lawyers but I was determined to get my degree and one day fight for him in the court of law.
"It really kept me going. This [court] building just brings back so many memories, good and bad.
"It's a great thing . . . to know that the justice system does work."
Musesengwa, now married and a mother of three, has spent the past nine months working for Sydenham Law but hoped to work in criminal law "as soon as I get the opportunity".
George Gwaze and Charlene's elder sister, Charmaine Makaza, 19, were among the proud family members who attended the ceremony.
Makaza is also an aspiring barrister, studying first-year law at the University of Canterbury. She said she was motivated by her family's experience and the desire to honour her sister.
"This one is definitely for her," she said.
Makaza is considering doing family law, despite her "horrible" experience of a Family Court-imposed restraining order, which separated her from George Gwaze, her uncle and adopted father, for more than four years.
"It was really, really tough," she said.
"I know the other side. I would really like to help people who went through what we did."
Musesengwa was among 15 law graduates to be admitted to the roll yesterday.