History of Zimbabwean Law

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The Zimbabwean law came from a long way to be what it is today. The long road which led to the current law had milestones of changing times, governance, wars which fought and exploration among others. This writing is aimed at outlining the historical development of blended Zimbabwe’s current law by chronologically tracing all the developments from its origins up to post colonial era.

The birth of Zimbabwean law can be traced from the fall of Roman in AD 476. The decline of Roman Empire did not bring the existence of Roman law to an end as indicated by Christie (1998). During those middle ages, the Roman law existed because every person was judged according to the laws of his or her own tribe or country which made the former Roman citizens to be judged according to the Roman Law. The Roman Law was regarded as the main law in Europe, but the Dutch in Netherlands did not receive it completely. The independence of Dutch people from Rome made them preserve their customs and privileges. The law that came out showed much Dutch influence in certain areas like families. The Roman law was received in Netherlands in the 15th and 16th centuries and became mixed with customary law to form Roman-Dutch Law. Grotius (1583-1645) was described as the father of roman Dutch law because of his first attempt to write a systematic roman Dutch Law.

The step which brought the Roman Dutch law to Southern part of Africa was when Jan Van Riebeek brought the roman Dutch Law to Cape in 1652 as highlighted by Christie (1998). Riebeek occupied the Cape as one of the loyal agents of the Netherlands companies from the Province of Holland. He took the law of Holland with him which granted the company as to be a separate entity from its members. The British took advantage of Dutch alliance the Netherlands and took over control of the cape in 1814. The British did not replace the working legal system in the cape but they established a system of courts on the English pattern to replace existing institutions. For example Orphan Chamber was replaced by the Master of Supreme Court. This led to the direct and indirect influence of the English law in the jury system. Another example of penetration of English law was the code of criminal procedure which was introduced in 1896.

The arrival of the pioneer column formed by Cecil John Rhodes in Mashonaland in 1890 was the beginning of Roman-Dutch fused with English Law in Zimbabwe which was then called Southern Rhodesia as stated by Havenga (2007). The proclamation of the British High Commissioner to South Africa dated 10 June 1891stated that the law of Cape on that day should be the law of southern Rhodesia. Rhodes obtained a charter from Queen Victoria for the British South Africa Company to rule Southern Rhodesia from 1890 to 1923. Rhodes had a dream of establishing British colonies from Cape to the mouth of Nile.

Rhodes succeeded in persuading the British government to secure Bechuanaland now Botswana and won the concession from Lobengula which made him aim further to the North. After Lobengula grants Rhodes mining rights in his territory, the British government declared the land between Zambezi and Limpopo as the British Protectorate in 1891. Given the deceitful and fraudulent means of securing the territory used by Rhodes and his company, tension began to mount between Lobengula and the company.  A war broke out in 1893 in which the natives, poorly armed, were defeated.  This war was to be known as the “Anglo-Matebeleland war of dispossession”. This was the beginning of colonialism in Zimbabwe. The law in force before British occupation was the traditional or customary law of the tribes living in Zimbabwe at that time.  The traditional laws were written and were not uniform throughout the country.  Chiefs and their kraal heads administered the law with the chiefs being the judges who had the final say in the settlement of disputes.  Chiefs have the power to issue royal decrees and these would become...