5 Decolonization and Transitional Justice

Kudzai Mudyara

Title: Policing and the Courts Through the Looking Glass: The Road to Transitional Justice and Decolonization in Zimbabwe 


The effects and impacts of colonialism continue to render themselves unforgettable in many nations around the world. Zimbabwe gained its independence in 1980 and declared itself free from the grip of the British. It seemed the road to recovery was on the horizon; however, the leadership, or lack thereof, was overtaken by corruption and looting of funds intended to improve the lives of citizens. The central explanation for this is found in previously untold stories of the stripping away of the traditions, language, and culture of the Zimbabweans by British settlers during colonial rule. In fact, the road to decolonization travelled by Zimbabwe citizens has been strewn with misery and oppression kept in place by the colonial mentality that continues to characterize the country’s governance. This paper gives an analytical overview of the Zimbabwean sectors affected by associated corruption and injustices, such as policing and the court system.


A nation built on the backs of thousands upon thousands of Indigenous freedom fighters, guerillas, and war veterans came together as brothers and sisters to fight for the liberation of Zimbabwe. The forefathers had chanted songs to raise the spirits as they took up arms to fight for a greater Zimbabwe. Two local spirit mediums, Sekuru Kaguvi and Mbuya Nehanda, performed rituals on the freedom fighters to boost their morale and strength, since they were fighting with mere bows and arrows. In 1898, these mediums were executed by hanging by the British South Africa Company (BSAC). The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization has recognized Sekuru Kaguvi and Mbuya Nehanda in its Memory of the World Register as key spirit mediums who inspired the Zimbabwean revolution against colonial rule (The Sunday Mail, 2021). They are now commemorated in the names of streets and hospitals in many parts of Zimbabwe.

Over 41 years after the country gained independence, an eerie and mysterious strangeness now fills the streets. Poverty lurks at the doorsteps of thousands and hunger roams like a disease across highly populated areas, quietly defeating the street kids as they hunt the rubbish bins for food. Death raids the hospital beds of pregnant women with stillborn births. Unemployed youth linger in the streets, idol with nothing to do apart from stealing, committing crime. The situation in Zimbabwe demands an emergency response. In this paper, I aim to uncover the traumas issuing forth from colonialism and the related political unrest that impact the lives of many Zimbabweans even as they hope for decolonization and transitional justice. This paper will unveil the impacts of colonization on the Zimbabwean justice system while recognizing decolonization as a method for identifying and resolving the post-independence legacies of the former colonial rule within a framework of policing and the courts. Case studies from various other African countries will be referenced in the hope that the Zimbabwean justice system might borrow and implement related measures.

Impacts of Colonization

Colonial rule impacted the country of Zimbabwe in several ways and these impacts are visible amongst the masses. Not only has colonization shaped the governance structure but the mind and body of its victims as well. The plethora of impacts from colonization ranges from culture, tradition, and justice system to food and lifestyle. For example, in pre-colonial Zimbabwe a mystical musical instrument called the mbira was played, mainly by the Shona tribe that dominates the population in Zimbabwe. This instrument and music encompassed all aspects of Shona culture, both sacred and secular. It was played for thousands and thousands of years but forbidden through colonization when replaced with other forms of music such as the Christian hymn. The role of missionaries was to destroy and dominate the traditions and cultures of the Tonga people—in the name of ‘civilization.’ Christianity was used as an ideological weapon to scare people into not resisting white domination. This all may have happened eons ago, but the effects are still prevalent in Zimbabwe. The mbira has rarely been played post-independence, and most of the country’s churches continue to cast the music as demonic. Similarly, the Zimbabwean people have long begun denigrating themselves and everything associated with their traditions, culture, and religion.


Before colonization, Zimbabwe had a structured policing system in place: the people were the police and the police the people. When the British occupied Mashonaland, Zimbabwe in 1890 they did so with the assistance of the British South Africa Company (BSAC). The pre-colonial era in Zimbabwe had been peaceful and there were no official institutions assigned for policing. The colonial institutionalization of justice established prisons, police stations, and uniformed police officers, and these still embody active elements of colonialism in Zimbabwe. In the olden days, policing was informed by the African value system, which embodied the age-old precepts of hunhu/ubuntu. Policing efforts in the pre-colonial era sought to transform these beliefs, because they informed social behavior and norms. Policing was learned at a young age within the community through socialization and passed down by word of mouth. Dr. Chihuri explained that the infusion of good behavioral tenets into the young would nurture and sustain a self-policing and self-respecting community united against crime. This was achieved in part through teachings of idioms and proverbs to young and old alike, conveying positive values in a way that would be remembered. Mention of such proverbs was used to prevent people from committing crimes and to make them merciful. For instance, an old proverb designed to remind society about things to avoid includes a reference to tempering justice with mercy: Mambo haatongi nedemo and Tsvimbo haivaki musha. This approach was systematic and valuable in also reminding and compelling a Shona King to exercise righteousness among his subjects (Mwale, 2017).

This system was destroyed and replaced by the British South Africa Company Police (BSACP) that came into existence during colonial rule. The BSACP achieved cohesion for their own imperialistic agenda through dishonesty, cunning, and deceptive ideas. The BSACP was used as a vehicle to scatter people when the British mining magnate Cecil Rhodes arrived in Zimbabwe. It also recruited Africans and used them as colonial tools in enforcing unfair laws against their own people. The Africans were given inferior training and were not allowed to eat at the same table as their European counterparts (Mwale, 2017). Therefore, the structure and much of the functioning of post-independence policing in Zimbabwe is a looking-glass reflection of the structures and functioning implemented during the colonial era.



Court system

There is no doubt that the biggest cause of the issues faced within the country is the Zimbabwe Constitution 2013 (s.189[1]), which outlines the court system, its members, and the supreme court judges appointed at the recommendation of the Judicial Service Commission (Constitute Project, 2013). The Judicial Commission is described as an “independent body”. This system has not worked, however, as evidenced by the amount of corruption in the justice system. If Zimbabwe were able to embrace more of its customary traditions, it could mean less traffic through the formal courts. British colonial court systems were hierarchical, with the colonial high courts on top and the native customary courts at the bottom. Colonial court systems were divided along race lines, with cases involving Europeans being heard in the common law courts while those involving Africans—if of no interest to colonial authorities—were heard before the African authorities in the customary courts. Once Zimbabwe recognizes that their traditional system was competent and in use under the Crown, it could trigger a transition toward adoption by the formal courts of the customary law and abandonment of the inherited British colonial court systems (Feingold, 2018).

Corruption and Injustices

The pre-independence capitalist system was established by the first Rhodesian-born ruler Ian Smith (Former Prime Minister of Rhodesia/Zimbabwe 1963-1979 and serving in Parliament until 1987). Smith was an ardent supporter of white rule and declared the independence of Rhodesia from the British Commonwealth. A black nationalist fighting against white-minority control over government, Robert Mugabe, became the first Prime Minister (1980-1987) of Zimbabwe and then President (1987-2017). Mugabe adopted Smith’s principles towards implementing universal healthcare and increased access to education. However, the lack of experience in running the system that former primer Minister Ian Smith had built was beyond what Mugabe had expected. Rather, he saw this as an opportunity to redistribute designated funds and wealth meant for the citizens. Before he realized it, the practice of corruption became prevalent throughout the sectors. Mugabe tried to fix Zimbabwe’s problems, but it was impossible while the white minority were accruing most of the profits from the land. Everything fell apart and Zimbabwe was shunned by the world community when Mugabe created laws to expropriate farms from the white people at the turn of the century.

In 2017, Mugabe was forced to resign under military pressure but can not necessarily be said to have been removed from power by coup. His successor Emmerson Mnangagwa—the current President of Zimbabwe—has perpetuated Mugabe’s legacy of looting public funds designated for redistributing the wealth and sustaining the citizens. Though undeniable that Mugabe’s post-independence Zimbabwean government harvested what Ian Smith had sown, it did not occur to them to prevent depletion of the land. Many downfalls and areas of concern now pose a challenge in the country, such as education. Education was introduced to the Indigenous people of Zimbabwe as part of the colonial system by white missionaries and made more accessible by Mugabe initially. Post-colonization Zimbabwe has still not yet been able to bring its educational standards up to par. Many Africans see education as the only way of breaking the brutal stride of poverty, but access is far from universal. In Ghana and Zimbabwe, for example, those in the urban areas have a better chance of a quality education than those in rural areas. Due to the systemic racism implanted during colonial times most of the better schools were not accessible by blacks going into independence. They could not obtain the prerequisites for admission and could not afford the fees. The erosion of basic educational principles and implementation of tuition/user fees for ‘public’ school programs in most African countries have made access to quality education a challenge for many low-income families, particularly those inhabiting rural areas (Konadu-Agyemand & Shabaya, 2005). In fact, due to the rise in corruption and ensuing excessive levels of inflation in the country, most parents are unable to pay the increased tuition fees needed to keep their children in school.

With institutionalized corruption being Zimbabwe’s main challenge in terms of blocked development, anti-corruption commissions, measures, policies, and a Special Anti-Corruption Unit were implemented by Mnangagwa leading up to the establishment of specialized (anti-corruption) courts in all ten provinces as of December 2020. Time will tell the outcome of these actions.

Defining Decolonization

Decolonization is an undoing of colonial processes designed to demonize Indigenous traditions, cultures, ‘race’ by implanting colonial ideas of race purity and institutionalizing imperialist value/belief systems through the police and the courts in order to destabilize the masses, partly by turning them against themselves and their culture and keeping them poor through the accompanying socio-economic exclusion.

 To understand the complex colonial systems currently in place in Zimbabwe, we must first unmask decolonization. For this, I lean towards the understanding that decolonization can be broken down into two integral and inter-related parts—micro decolonization and macro decolonization—as defined in Asadullah’s framework (2021). In the case of Zimbabwe, we can refer to colonization of the mind and body that made the colonized peoples’ traditional lifestyle seem inferior to that of the colonizer (Asadullah, 2021). Therefore, both Asadullah’s micro and macro decolonization come into play. On the one hand, micro decolonization encompasses the restoration of language and culture, mind, and body. On the other, macro decolonization addresses the inter-related institutional and structural changes such as self-governance, wealth redistribution, and policy reform related to traditional methods of policing and use of the courts. Decolonization not only denotes the removal of colonial power for economic and political independence, but the term also implies a complete dismantlement of practices and processes founded on the old colonial rule.

Decolonization is a shedding of inter-generational traumas and a coming to terms with the pains and struggles caused by the colonizers (Palmater, 2017). Palmater describes it as moving away from Eurocentric views and standards. However, she shuns the idea of political urgency for Indigenous people to “just get over it”, which is not good advice for anyone having mental health issues. Palmater calls for a more structured reconciliation process that would allow Indigenous people to forgive themselves for being colonized (victimized) and lay the blame at the feet of their colonizers. While the idea of taking up arms in a rebellion as Zimbabwe did drive the white settlers off the land, it alone was not the best way to encourage inclusion and decolonization. Rather, an approach including the development and implementation of an integrated micro and macro plan aimed at turning things around might have worked better. The Zimbabwean government was able to successfully drive out the white settlers through the land reform program of 2000, along with which they also inherited farms that were performing well.

This was because the settlers had secured the best and most fertile land that during colonialism (Thomas, 2003). Interestingly, Kenya was in a similar situation after gaining independence, they too inherited the wealth left by the British. Both Kenya and Zimbabwe chose a basic transitional strategy that has five major components: to maintain aggregate production; to redistribute existing surplus; to introduce structural reforms in some sectors; to break down all vestiges of discrimination; and to consolidate state power through Africanization (Gordon, 1981). Amongst these commonalities were strategies for liberal foreign investment and a desire to increase budgets for the African public goods – including social services such as education and health. Though these strategies were similar for both countries, their outcomes were immensely different. What we learn from these outcomes mainly concerns land reform, land distribution, and differences in the inherited economies. Much of this is what slowed Zimbabwe’s progress on the roadway to decolonization (Gordon, 1981).


Colonialism has played a crucial role in the country of Zimbabwe. The country was robbed of its natural resources and the people stripped of livelihood, culture, traditions, and language. The impacts of colonization are seen in all sectors of the governance of Zimbabwe. In order to peel back the layers of influence from colonial rule the country will need to start the process of decolonization with the justice system, government procedures and policing.

Present-day Zimbabwe continues to struggle with illegitimate processes imposed on civilians through the exercise of power that does not take the rights of the people into account. For example, consider restoring customary African policing in Zimbabwe. As explained above, during precolonial times the policing system in Zimbabwe relied heavily on oral storytelling. The imparting of social teachings was expected to be practiced through open relations in order to confront societal mischief responsibly and constructively. However, as the BSACP company made its way, the traditional Indigenous policing structures were dismantled (Mwale, 2017) and replaced by westernized systems.

It is a regular practice in most policing philosophies for people to be arrested and questioned using the least amount of force and in compliance with other legal rules including those regarding evidence for use in the courts. Such rules and practices were deliberately not respected under the BSAC rule when Zimbabwe was still a British colony of Southern Rhodesia. Although after gaining its independence and creating the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) force to correct the wrongs created under colonial rule, the African people’s traditional fair and effective way of policing was lost. Dr. Chihuri, Police Commissioner—General of the Zimbabwe Republic Police force from 1994 to 2017—was a veteran who had received military training at Mgagao in Tanzania (News Pindula, n.d.). His aim was to tactfully transform the old BSCAP tradition of policing characterized by threats and coercion to a people-centered approach upholding the right to life and equal opportunity regardless of creed, race, tribe, or religion. Despite Dr. Chihuri’s efforts to transform the police force and its effects on society, crime has generally risen. The police force has been used as a political tool to impose rules and regulations by use of excessive brutality and human rights violations. Ironically, these are the same practices used by the BSACP during the colonial era.

Zimbabwe makes its way into international news for the human rights violations and whenever the masses come out either to protest the existing government or at election time. The 2019 protests held by the opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), sparked great international concern, as protestors were brutally battered and dispersed using teargas while peacefully protesting in the streets of Harare (Dzirutwe, 2019). The US Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Tibor Nagy called on Zimbabwe’s security forces to exercise restraint and respect human rights. The British Embassy in Harare also expressed concern at the images of the crowd dispersion tactics employed in Harare (Dzirutwe, 2019). It is safe to say that the policing system and structure left behind by the British seems to be failing Zimbabwe today. The country has made no successful efforts to change its policing system, as this would require a complete reformation and revitalization of its current policing structures.

The current injustices in Zimbabwe evidence a lack of proper governance, given the failure to decolonize the courts and policing system following independence. The appropriate move would be for the country to turn to customary and traditional methods used in the colonial era’s two-tiered court system (i.e., customary courts for Africans and common courts for Europeans or others). The current shortcomings in the system add up to a state of emergency and are caused by the way the systems are set up.

If we look back through history to when settlers first started making their way, we see they established themselves and came up with innovative ideas to turn the country into a money-making endeavor for the mother country and to ‘civilize’ the Africans. To achieve this, the British strove to supply the nations of Northern and Southern Rhodesia (Zambia and Zimbabwe) with electricity using the massive waterbed that lay in the Zambezi valley in the area where the Tonga people lived. The idea was to build a dam that would provide hydroelectric power to the settlement. The river had always separated the peoples on either side, but they had always remained connected and enjoyed good relations. In 1955, however, the Tonga people were forcibly displaced from their lush river valley onto new lands that were inarable and heavily infested with the Tsetse fly. The chiefs and elders in the areas had been approached, but soon discovered the “resettlement” would happen without their agreement.

Today, the Tango are reliant on international food aid for survival. Their way of life before being forcibly removed was based on a traditional lifestyle as herdsmen and in livelihoods such as flood-recession farming—whereby communities living on the flood plains had planted crops on the fertile soil—and fishing (Siwilia, 2015). Of course, they also lost their traditional rights to hunt under colonial rule. In October 2021, the government provided the multiple displaced communities food aids like grain, powdered milk, and salt. It was also responsible for building hospitals, sinking boreholes, and constructing roads (Siwilia, 2015). The government made efforts to respond to the health crisis due to the disease brought in by the flies, but the lack of meaningful assistance accorded the Tonga people caused much undo suffering from numerous ailments over time (Siwilia, 2015). International experts say that even since Zimbabwe gained its independence restitution efforts have failed to improve the living conditions of the majority of the 250,000 Tonga.

After independence, the country should have rectified the Tongo’s situation, however, the post-independence government of Zimbabwe chose to ignore the injustices and associated trauma. The new government continued what the British had been doing for centuries, which means failing to provide adequate resources and also falling short on their promises to the people. The displacement of the Tongo people artificially increased populations in the country’s high-density areas and there is a consequential rise in poverty and disease. The displaced people also had their language taken away. What we learn from this experience is that when it comes to colonial-related trauma, both micro and macro decolonization are needed.

According to the new Constitution of Zimbabwe (Constitute Project, 2013), every person has rights of access either to the courts or to some other tribunal or forum established under the law for the resolution of a given dispute (Section 69(1)(3). Rights of access to the courts are essential for democracy, given the need to uphold the Rule of Law. Constitutional rights of access to the court, however, will not alone be enough to regulate access. An uneducated population cannot be expected to navigate the court system, making justice inaccessible. The country must first, therefore, institutionalize a universal education system and ensure it as a right that extends to everyone including those in rural areas. As well, according to a case study by Monica Matavire (2012), the customary law system in Zimbabwe infringes on women’s rights. Matavire’s research illustrates that woman in the Shona tribes of Muzarabani remain inferior to men despite international declarations of inalienable human rights for all people. Under Zimbabwean customary law, a woman has an inferior role to her son. (Matavire, 2012). Therefore, both the lack of access to formal courts and the gender unfairness of the customary systems must all be addressed, and this will hinge in part on public education. Zimbabwe is already faced with the challenge of gender bias, a woman is not deemed the “head of a household”, this title is only given to men. This limitation puts women in an inferior position from the start when it comes to divorce, because under customary law when a woman is widowed or gets divorced her husband’s property is no longer accessible to her (Jacobs, 1991).


Decolonizing Practices

Baraza Justice in Democratic Republic of Congo

The issues in the Democratic Republic of the Congo plague a case study entitled Baraza Justice (Peace Direct, 2014). The FOCHI (Foundation Chirezi), a small Congolese NGO founded in 2002, has worked closely with Peace Direct on the Baraza court project since 2010. The case study points to ongoing violence and conflict as the critical issue currently facing the country. The struggles of establishing the rule of law in a nation built on violence can be difficult because violence has become a way of life and therefore often the only mode of resistance. This skews the international response and causes interference by international donors who mean well and want to help rebuild the Congo. Their ideas for change, however, will be based on wrong assumptions until they become fully aware of the underlying problems. The Baraza peace courts refer to a gathering where people in the community come together to discuss an issue, a problem, or celebrate a success. The primary focus of the Baraza system is to ensure accessible, fair, and non-punitive justice to those living in rural villages. FOCHI has promoted the creation of the Baraza system in the aim of establishing community-led justice courts that provide successful resolution to conflicts through participatory processes of dialogue and reconciliation. Baraza is a conflict resolution mechanism that aims to bring about reconciliation and is also a revival of a conflict resolution system that had functioned in the region before colonization (Peace Direct, 2014). All Baraza matters are carried out in the local languages to offset language barriers but also to ensure maximum social and cultural impact.

Floribert Kazingufu describes the Baraza system as a method for fighting the corruption in the police, magistrates, impunity, favoritism, and a law system that does not accord equal rights to the poor. In the Baraza peace court, everybody is equal, and the community eye is there to ensure equality and fairness of judgments. The Baraza system does not claim to address all types of cases or to be able to replace the national justice institutions. The Baraza peace courts address conflicts related to land rights, accusations of sorcery, robbery, rape, injury of person/property, domestic violence, public insult, intimidation/aggression, adultery, breach of trust, and/or the spreading of rumours (Peace Direct, 2014). The impacts of this system prove its success with fairer justice and more appropriate conflict resolution. The given communities identified successful justice as one of the most significant changes to result from the project. It increased collaboration and mobilization not only within the communities themselves but also between the community’s local-leaders’ authorities and ex-soldiers. The Baraza system has also fostered gains in female empowerment; more women report feeling secure to go directly to the peace courts to ask for assistance in matters of domestic violence (Peace Direct, 2014).

Customary Laws in other African nations

Zimbabwe could learn from the experiences of the many African countries that have reverted to their customary laws and taken their heritage and tradition into consideration. For instance, the Himba people of Namibia, found mainly in the capital of the country’s Kunene region. The Himba reject modern progress and Western culture and continue to practice ancient traditions (Association Kovahimba). The Namibian Constitution endorses traditional governance and customary law as an element of its legal system within a framework of the rights of indigenous groups in Namibia (UNHCR, 2012). Namibia has a significant number of traditional communities operating under an organized system of traditional justice. Other African countries may shun this method as outdated and too informal to fit into a modernized system. Although such institutions predate colonialism, they may have been significantly different from what they are today. This can be blamed on the relation of colonial legal traditions and the formal justice system. Traditional justice systems generally apply customary procedural and substantive law and operate in an environment where traditional authorities are recognized formally or informally as having a leadership role in a given community and a relationship with a given territory. In Ethiopia, a number of unrecognized traditional communities are governed by their customary law. These groups have the right to use their traditional justice systems and even conduct criminal matters. In Uganda, a separate justice system caters to each ethnic group and Namibia has 49 unrecognized traditional authorities under their own system of governance (UNHCR, 2016).

Finally, we could also learn from the people of Tanganyika. They understood that the colonial court systems were the backbone of British colonial rule, and they rectified this post-independence. As discussed earlier, British colonial court systems were based on a hierarchy with the colonial high courts at the top and the native customary courts at the bottom (Feingold, 2018). When Cameron became the Governor of Tanganyika in 1925, he found a loose and somewhat unstructured system of indirect rule. He restructured the Native Authorities and standardized their role in communities throughout the territory. He did this to reinforce tribal units for efficient governance and to extend the power granted to the Native Authorities. Although Tanganyika has tried to come up with a single template for customary law, this is challenging with over 120 different tribes (Cotran, 1962).

Policing in Rwanda

Civil war in countries such as Liberia, Rwanda, and Sierra Leone disrupted the post-independence transformation of policing. Colonization had stripped all three States of the resources required for them to protect citizens and offer fair investigations into matters of crime (Baker, 2007). Immediately after its Civil Wars, Rwanda had to make an incredible transition to a new, democratic regime and decide what kind of policing would work best. All three countries are different and how they addressed community-based policing takes different forms and patterns based on the outcome of the respective country’s civil war. In Sierra Leone, the existing regime was able to defeat the rebels. In Liberia, the existing regime reached a peace agreement with the rebels, but in Rwanda the rebels triumphed (Baker, 2007). What worked for Rwanda and Sierra Leone could still be applied in Zimbabwe given an appropriate allocation of resources. What we learn is that rebuilding a thriving regime and instituting successful policing would require a strong external partner to guide, foster and assist the host nation throughout the process (Kozma, 2014).

The Rwandan Community Policing Department (RCPD) aims for transparency and to promote partnership. They thus initiated things by engaging in interactions with the public via the police website, electronic and print publications, and toll-free emergency lines through partnerships with telephone service providers. The RCPD has also involved the youth and there are 1500 Youth Volunteers in Community Policing (YVCP), Anticrime Ambassadors, 150,000 Community Policing Committees (CPCs), 1640 Anti-crime clubs in schools transport associations, artists, faith-based organizations as well as government and private institutions committed to assisting the Rwanda National Police (RNP) (Rwanda National Police, 2016).

In the same way, the RNP also enjoys great involvement with the community activities such as supporting afforestation and also assist in helping vulnerable families pay health insurance, in the distribution of solar systems to the needy and in the electrification and construction of football fields among others (Rwanda National Police, 2016). Their results were perfect; they were ranked 1st for Africa and 21st globally as a country whose citizens trust and rely on their police services to impose law and order (World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report, 2014-2015). Rwanda’s National Police is so advanced it has introduced E-policing and established a call centre along with a cyber-crime investigation centre (Rwanda National Police, 2016). The experiences of the Rwandese communities represent an opportunity to improve the Zimbabwean policing system and encourage public involvement with police to prevent crime.


One of the recurring limitations in bringing the country to implement more customary laws and practice more traditional and cultural practices is lack of funding. Traditional courts may not always be equipped for hearings while the formal court systems also lack funding, and the number of courts is inadequate to serve the population particularly in rural areas.

Most of the traditional laws established can at times be unacceptable from a human rights/social equity perspective. Extreme poverty and hardship also have a toxic impact on conflict-resolution customs that may not be fully understood in the West. The African concept of ‘ubuntu,’ which is translated as restoring a lost balance, is widely associated with the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The exploitation of women’s rights in the traditional and formal courts of Zimbabwe continues to pose a challenge. Traditional chieftainship and chiefs need to undergo judicial educational programs to be informed on matters involving human rights particularly those of women.

            The will for change in Zimbabwe is not evident as the current government struggles to uphold the Rule of Law. Although the constitution was rewritten in 2013, some laws still contravene human rights laws. For instance, a report that recently flooded the news and shocked the nation is the government of Zimbabwe’s approval to evict 12, 000 Shangani people from Chiredzi in the Masvingo province. Zimbabwean President Comrade Emmerson Mnangagwa reportedly authorized the eviction. This planned eviction is meant to pave way for the production of lucerne grass for cattle by Dendairy, one of the largest dairy producers in the country. Dendairy is owned by two European residents of Zimbabwe, Neville Coetzee and Herman Ventar, who have allegedly given shares in this company to Emmerson Mnangagwa (Zimbabwe News Live, 2021). On the 26th of February 2021, the Minister of Local Government, Rural and Urban Development issued a statutory instrument ordering any person living on this land to permanently vacate with his or her personal property. The statutory instrument did not specify where the affected victims would be relocated (Diaspoint, 2021).

       What is important to understand is that the Chilonga community is dominated by the Shangaan people who have lived in the area since the 1830’s. Their traditional leadership structures and internal land heritage systems are rooted in local customs, oral history and the peculiar local language spoken by the Chilonga people, who bear witness to the olden times and respected cultural dynamic of the community (Diaspoint, 2021). Their eviction matter was taken to court which ruled in favour of the Chilonga people’s plea, and the government amended statutory instrument (SI) 63A in 2021. Law expert and leader of the opposition—the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA)—professor Lovemore Madhuku, described the evictions as unconstitutional and evidence of a “colonial mentality” (Diaspoint, 2021).


Interestingly, after the execution of the two spirit mediums Nehanda and Kaguvi by the British South Africa Company (BSAC) in 1898 at the height of the colonization of Zimbabwe, their remains were allegedly transported to Britain and exhibited as war medals (The Sunday Mail, 2020). As noted in my introduction, Zimbabwe would benefit from scrutinizing how other countries have reverted to their traditional praxis, and this could be a game changer. Although the limitations noted above pose a challenge to moving forward, Zimbabwe can still attempt to adopt many of the principles and practices proven effective in Rwanda, Congo and Namibia. Zimbabwe should be able to excel under such changes, as tribal disputes are not as intense because there are fewer tribes than in other African countries. Again, as stated earlier regarding the impacts of colonization, the post-independence Zimbabwean government harvested the breadbasket that Ian Smith (the first white prime minister born in Rhodesia) had attempted to sow. Unfortunately, its development was curtailed due to mismanagement under the Mugabe reign.

       Though colonization is to blame for the vast problems of today, such as the impacts of intergenerational poverty and trauma among the black masses, the country also suffers from problems created after independence. But these are also typical ramifications of colonialism. During his reign President Mugabe was able to accumulate fat Swiss bank accounts along with other fortunes through embezzlement and looting (The South African, 2017). In short, the inheritance by the colonized of the colonial mentality, which justifies the fact that a few get the most, has deprived the country of much-needed capital resources (Konadu-Agyemand & Shabaya, 2005). Looking back, we can critically analyze how colonization has even played a major role in post-Independence development. It is also inevitable that the trauma meted out during colonial times was made worse by the intentional failure to create an infrastructure for the delivery of education and health to the black masses. These impacts in themselves would be difficult to eradicate; however, the country’s continued stagnation and suffering also reflects a lack of post-independence leadership. What we must be seeing here, is the renewal pattern of the colonial system, whereby the once-oppressed comes to play the role of the oppressor once in power (Memmi, 1957):

The representatives of the authorities, cadres, policemen, etc., recruited from among the colonized form a category of the colonized that attempts to escape from its political and social condition. But in so doing, by choosing to place themselves in the colonizer’s service to protect his interests exclusively, they end up by adopting his ideology, even with regard to their own values and their own lives. (Memmi, 1969)

       The “small colonizer” is part of the legacy of the colonial system (Memmi, 1969). The colonial system leaves a legacy of greed and a hunger for relative degrees of privilege and power. In this very important way, therefore, even the post-independence mis-leadership and corruption can be traced directly back to colonization. This illustrates the need for decolonization not only of a country’s system but of the peoples’ minds.

It has been reported that at least 5% of Zimbabwe’s annual economic output (about 300 million) is lost to graft, while government corruption is estimated to cost US 482 million per year. The misappropriation of public funds in Zimbabwe clearly perpetuates the levels of poverty in rural and underdeveloped areas established during colonialism (Konadu-Agyemand & Shabaya, 2005) and this marginalizes the people who reside in those areas. While on a vacation abroad Ian Smith made derogatory statements about the Black Zimbabweans, he made statements about most of the blacks being illiterate and not understanding the political system that “we’ve foisted on them” (Mills, 1985). Smith led the independence but failed to prioritize education and other essential services once in control of the State system, but then the Africans adopted the same colonial attitude of using all the country’s resources to support a small upper crust while the masses lived in ruin.

       In terms of the courts, there was no Rule of Law for the colonized under colonization. The white colonizers received preferential treatment and rights under the constitution. This is another thing that makes it so difficult to stem post-independence corruption; colonial systems simply were not created to be accountable and responsible to the masses. As well, aside from the tremendous effort and resources it would take to re-invent the police and court systems created under colonialism, the post-independence governments in Zimbabwe have made no effort to break with the past, partly because of the benefits that accrue to those at the top. Customary justice is important, as we have learned from the Baraza system in Congo and could be a contributing factor to ensuring the Rule of Law now embodied in the Zimbabwean constitution. Although Zimbabwe already has traditional courts in place, the need for them to be updated and informed on matters of human rights, such as customary practices that discriminate against women, can also pose a challenge. What Zimbabwe needs is an aggregate undoing and reconstruction of the underlying infrastructures of the colonial system that the colonial rulers imposed; in other words, to decolonize. As part of this process, Zimbabwe can repair and adjust those aspects of its customary and traditional laws that are illegal because they contravene human rights.


Discussion Questions

  1. How best can Zimbabwe begin to reclaim its court system and policing to better serve the people?
  2. Based on what you have read about Zimbabwe, is there room for improvement? Do you think asking for assistance from European countries can assist in turning the impoverished state of the country around?
  3. Can we copy / paste the court and policing systems developed in Rwanda and Congo for use in Zimbabwe?

Recommended Activities

  1. Get into groups of four with classmates to whom you have never spoken or who have a different ethnicity from you and discuss what areas of personal decolonization you could each work on.
  2. Define how you see the acts of colonization impacting a nation or group of people who were once under colonial rule? How best can you come up with solutions to improve the lives of the people impacted?
  3. Find out if there are groups of people in your local area impacted by colonization. If so, observe and study how their way of life has changed since the introduction of new regimes of policing and court systems.


Recommended Readings

  1. Mohdin, A. (2021). Cecil Rhodes Statue at Oxford College Should Go, Says Independent Report. The Guardian, Online Newspaper. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/education/2021/may/19/cecil-rhodes-statue-at-oxford-college-should-go-says-independent-report
  2. Timalsina, T. (2021). Why Rhodes Must Fall. Harvard Political Review. Retrieved from https://harvardpolitics.com/rhodes-must-fall/


Asadullah, M. (2021). Decolonization and Restorative Justice: A Proposed Theoretical Framework. Journal of Decolonization of Criminology and Justice, 3(1), 27-62.

Baker, B. (2007). Post-War policing by communities in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Rwanda. Democracy and Security, 215-236.

Ben, B. (1972). Index of Haya Law. African Studies Review, 535-536.

Constitute Project. (2013). Zimbabwe’s Constitution of 2013. Constitute Project Org. Retrieved from https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Zimbabwe_2013.pdf

Cotran, E. (1962). Some recent developments in the Tanganyika judical system. Journal of African Law, 19-28. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/745159

Diaspoint. (2021). Zimbabwe told to “immediately” stop eviction of Chilonga People. Retrieved from https://diaspoint.nl/zimbabwe-told-to-immediately-stop-eviction-of-chilonga-people/

Dunn, H. (2013). Customary justice and the Rule of Law in the Eastern DRC: A case study of Baraza. Ottawa: Carleton University.

Dzirutwe, M. (2019). Zimbabwe opposition backs down from protest to avoid “blood in the streets. Reuters. Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/article/ozatp-uk-zimbabwe-politics-idAFKCN1V61I8-OZATP

Feingold, E. (2018). Colonial justice and decolonization in the High Court of Tanzania, 1920-1971. Cambridge imperial & post-colonial studies. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan.

Gordon, D. (1981). Decolonization and development in Kenya and Zimbabwe: A comparative analysis. A Journal of Opinion, 36-40.

Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. (2012). Namibia: customary and common law including matters of inheritance; How Conflicts Betwen the Two Systems of Law are Resolved. Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. Retrieved from Refworld: https://www.refworld.org/docid/5053390d2.html

Jacobs, S. (1991). Land resettlement and gender in Zimbabwe: Some findings. The Journal of Modern African Studies, 29(3), 521–528. http://www.jstor.org/stable/16088

Killander, M., & Nyathi, M. (2015). Accountability for the Gukurahundi atrocities in Zimbabwe thirty years on: Prospects and challenges. The Comparative and International Law Journal of Southern Africa, 48(3), 463-487.

Konadu-Agyemang, & Shabaya, J. (2005). What has corruption got to do with it? Understanding the persistence of rural-urban and inter-regional inequalities in Ghana and Zimbabwe. GeoJournal, 129-146. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/41147983

Kovahimba, A. (n.d.). The Himbas’ History. Retrieved from Association-Kovahimba: https://www.association-kovahimba.net/en/the-himbas-history

Kozma, T. (2014). From adjusting to rebuilding police institutions. Connections: The Quarterly Journal, 13(3), 117–123. http://www.jstor.org/stable/26326371

Macdonald, D. (2019). Zimbabwe opposition backs down from protest to avoid “blood in the streets. Reuters. Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/article/ozatp-uk-zimbabwe-politics-idAFKCN1V61I8-OZATP

Macfarlane, J. (2006). Restorative justice in Ethiopia: A pilot project. Windsor: University of Windsor.

Matavire, M. (2012). Interrogating the Zimbabwean traditional jurisprudence and the position of women in conflict resolution. A case of the Shona Tribes in Muzarabani District. International Journal of Humanities and Social Science, 218-223.

Memmi, A. (1957). The Colonizer and the Colonized, trans. H.Greenfeld (Boston:Beacon Press, 1965)

Memmi, A. (1969). Exerts and Notes. The Colonizer and the Colonized. Trans. Howard Greenfeld. Boston, Beacon, 1969). Retrieved from https://www.westgatemennonite.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/memmi-exerts-and-notes.pdf

Mohdin, A. (2021). Cecil Rhodes statue at Oxford College should go, says independent Report. The Guardian.

Mwale, E. (2017). Traditional Policing Superior to colonial style. The Patriot. Retrieved from https://www.thepatriot.co.zw/old_posts/traditional-policing-superior-to-colonial-style/

Mills, I. (1985) Ian Smith may go on trial. Retrieved from https://www.upi.com/Archives/1985/12/03/Ian-Smith-may-go-on-trial/3194502434000/

News Pindula. (2021, March 10). Zimbabwe told to “immediately” stop eviction of Chilonga people. Retrieved from https://news.pindula.co.zw/2021/03/10/zimbabwe-told-to-immediately-stop-eviction-of-chilonga-people/

News Pindula. (n.d.). Augsutine Chihuri. 1. Retrieved from https://www.pindula.co.zw/Augustine_Chihuri

Palmater, P. (2017). Decolonization is taking back our power. In P. McFarlane, & N. Schabus, Whose land is it anyway? A Manual for Decolonization, 74-78. Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC.

Peace Direct. (2014). Baraza Justice: A Case Study of the Community Led Conflict Resolution in D.R.Congo. Retrieved February 24, 2021, from https://www/peacedirect.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Baraza-Justice-summary-of-report.pdf

Rights, U. N. (2016). Human rights and traditional justice systems in Africa. 16-78.

Rwanda National Police. (2017, June 20). Community policing: A people centred policing in Rwanda. Retrieved from https://www.police.gov.rw/media-archives/news-detail/?tx_news_pi1%5Bnews%5D=4286&tx_news_pi1%5Bcontroller%5D=News&tx_news_pi1%5Baction%5D=detail&cHash=962feb78cd3d9a780bd8b26df50cb878

Siwilia, L. (2015). An encroachment of ecological sacred sites and its threat to the interconnectedness of sacred rituals: A case study of the Tonga People in the Gwembe Valley. Journal for the Study of Religion, 28(2), 138-153.

Smith, I. (2000-2001). Ian Smith: one last stand for Rhodesia’s white warrior. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, 60-61.

The South African. (2017). Robert Mugabe’s millions: Hidden Fortune of Zimbabwe’s president. Retrieved from https://www.thesouthafrican.com/news/mugabes-millions-the-hidden-fortune-of-zimbabwes-president/

The Sunday Mail. (2020). Nehanda, Kaguvi Remains Head Home. Retrieved from https://www.sundaymail.co.zw/nehanda-kaguvi-remains-head-home

Thomas, N. H. (2003). Land reform in Zimbabwe. Third World Quarterly, 24(4), 691–712. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3993432

Timalsina, T. (2021). Why Rhodes must fall. Harvard Political Review. Retrieved from https://harvardpolitics.com/rhodes-must-fall/

UNHCR. (2016). Human Rights and Traditional Justice Systems In Africa. 16-78. United Nations Publication.Retrieved from https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/HR_PUB_16_2_HR_and_Traditional_Justice_Systems_in_Africa.pdf

UNHCR Agency. (2012). Namibia: Customary and common law including matters of inheritance; how conflicts betwen the two systems of law are resolved. n/a: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. Retrieved from Refworld: https://www.refworld.org/docid/5053390d2.html

World Economic Forum. (2014-2015). The Global Competitiveness Report 2014-2015.Retrieved from https://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GlobalCompetitivenessReport_2014-15.pdf

Zimbabwe News Live. (2021). Mnangagwa owns 100% of Dendairy receipts show. Retrieved from https://www.thezimbabwenewslive.com/mnangagwa-owns-10-of-dendairy-receipts-show/


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Decolonization and Justice: An Introductory Overview Copyright © 2022 by Kudzai Mudyara is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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