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  • The Struggle over State Power in Zimbabwe: Law and Politics since 1950 by George Hamandishe Karekwaivanane
  • R. I. R.
The Struggle over State Power in Zimbabwe: Law and Politics since 1950. By George Hamandishe Karekwaivanane (New York, Cambridge University Press, 2017) 272 pp. $99.99

The "normal standards of due process" did not apply when dealing with less "civilized" peoples, especially the Africans of what was then Southern [End Page 522] Rhodesia and is now Zimbabwe. Such was the ruling white government's approach to increasing indigenous political dissent and physical protests in the 1950s. Africans, writes this careful scholar of the evolution of the law and its place in Zimbabwean society, were "discursively constructed as simpletons or errant children" being misled by agitators—a common colonialist trope.

This book discusses the use of the law in all of its social extension to repress African aspirations from 1890 to 1980, to take farming lands away from Africans, and to curtail their access to urban life and amenities. Segregation, an apartheid-lite regime, was legally arranged as well as socially observed through World War II and, to some extent, afterward. The law, as the author indicates, was deployed creatively in the interest of ruling whites, a small minority of the total population. Later, it was used unilaterally to declare "independence" from Britain by white postcolonial usurpers.

Following real independence in 1980, and the transfer of power to Africans, President Robert Mugabe's increasingly authoritarian government used the old legal framework to limit the movement and free expression of opponents, to hamstring their rights of assembly, to remove most press freedom, to rig elections, and to reduce human rights. It also confiscated white-owned land, wholesale and illegally. The author also shows how customary law was made to serve the state instead of traditional society.

This book is one of a handful of African examinations of the nature of legal history in sub-Saharan Africa. It is welcome on that score for its thorough scholarship, as well as for its explicit connection of law with state power in a manner that few other scholars have attempted. The making and employing of the full legal mechanism was coercive, in the usual manner, but also productive and discursive.

This book closely examines the legal battles, and hence the political battles, that roiled independent Zimbabwe. The author portrays the legal pleading by accomplished lawyers, shows how the Movement for Democratic Change and Mugbe's Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front attempted to overcome each other's legal arguments, and indicates some of the ways in which civil society tried to use legal means to free citizens from governmental constraints.

The author interviewed a number of judges in the course of his research. He also quotes, tellingly, several courtroom exchanges between baffled and largely clueless state witnesses and experienced advocates to demonstrate how the laws of the land were misused and abused. But the author fails to say enough about the loss of judicial independence after 1999, and about what the shift from a principled to a regime-controlled judiciary meant for indigenous freedom and the contemporary evolution of his homeland. [End Page 523]



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