Those who work with me have heard me say, time and again: “Nothing turns on this.” Let me share with you where it comes from:
In 1995, after waiting for nearly two years, we finally managed to get a hearing before the Constitutional Court of Zimbabwe, the nation’s highest court. It was a daunting moment to see those esteemed judges in their gowns and wigs sitting before us!
The Minister of Telecommunications was represented by one of the most celebrated barristers in the nation’s history, an advocate called Chris Anderson SC.
I was represented by a South African advocate and constitutional expert called Wim Trengove SC. He was considered one of the most brilliant legal minds, and also represented President Nelson Mandela when he came out of prison.
Finally we had our day in court! Chris Anderson went first. He referred me as “the prince of freedom of expression,” but it was not meant to be complimentary! He attacked me personally and viciously. I was totally shocked as he questioned my suitability as the holder of such a license.
It was relentless and my wife sitting next to me began to weep silently. Some of my supporters in the gallery were shaken but most just prayed.
Although I was not being cross-examined, he would often turn towards me with a menacing sneer on his face!
Sitting behind Advocate Trengove, I began to write furious notes denying these false allegations against me. To my surprise, he just never seemed to care about what I was giving him! The attacks continued for almost the entire first day.
During the break I confronted my lawyer: “You really must defend me! You have not interjected once to challenge these lies he is saying against me!” I complained bitterly. “This guy wants the judges to think I’m some kind of crook, and even a risk to national security!”
Then Advocate Trengove said something that changed my life forever:
“Nothing turns on anything he has said up to now. I’m not here to defend you personally; I’m here to win a constitutional matter over freedom of expression. As long as he continues on this line, you will have your license.” And with that he politely excused himself and returned to attend to his papers.
The following day Advocate Trengove laid out the constitutional case in a quiet tone, never once raising his voice. There was no jeering or sarcasm, just a polite deferential style.
You could almost feel the force of his humility.
__Lesson #1: Advocate Trengove stayed laser-focused on his objective which was to win a Constitutional Court case. So many people easily get sidetracked by things that are not central to the issue at hand.
I watched as each of the judges wrote copious notes. It lasted less than two hours.
Then finally the Chief Justice spoke for the first time: “If we rule in favor of your client, what order would you like to see?”
“I would like to confer with my client your honor.”
We were given a recess and we drafted a single paragraph: “Econet shall have the right to move traffic within, into and from Zimbabwe.”
The judges passed it around. Chris Anderson read it, and looked down to the floor.
The case was over. Within months, the court upheld our application. It would be another two years before we opened our doors to the public, but every time something was done to delay us again and again, those words rang in my heart:
__”Nothing turns on it.”
A key thing I learnt from that particular experience is that it is important to focus on the “substance” of what someone is saying rather than the “form” (style of delivery). If someone comes shouting and screaming or hurling insults, learn to ignore it, and extract substance (if there is any).
I also learnt that the most effective people are not necessarily those with soaring rhetorical style or have the best command of English or any other foreign language.
# In life you will always be confronted by situations in which people will seek to provoke you or even try to detract you from your set purpose.
# You must train yourself to have such a presence of mind that provocations do not force you to lose your cool.
If you are going through a tough time right now, turn to someone next to you and say: “Nothing turns on this.”
The writer is a Zimbabwean born Telecom mogul based in UK.