The structural pitfalls of the inherited colonial legal system in A Tragedy of Lives


THE criminologist Howard Becker once said, “Society creates deviance (crime) by creating rules whose infraction leads to crime.”
This observation is crucial in understanding some of the crimes committed by some of the characters in A Tragedy of Lives.
One needs to understand that the legal system that determines who has erred and also what punishment to mete against the perpetrator of crime is not founded on the basis of African ethics.
It is a legal system that is inherited from the colonial period where it was serving the interests of the coloniser – to keep the natives in perpetual check. This article challenges the legitimacy of such a legal system against unhu/ubuntu ethical philosophy.
Social groups, according to Howard Becker, create deviance by making the rules whose infraction constitutes deviant behaviour and by applying these rules to particular people and labelling them as outsiders.
From this point of view, deviance or crime is not an action which the person commits, but rather a consequence of application by others of the rules and sanctions to an ‘offender’. 
Becker is suggesting that in one sense there is no such thing as a deviant act.
An act only becomes deviant when others perceive and define it as such.
Becker illustrated his views with the example of a brawl involving young people.
In a low income neighbourhood it may be defined by the police as evidence of delinquency, in a wealthy area as evidence of high spirits.
If the agents of social control define the youngsters as delinquents and they are convicted of breaking the law, those youngsters have then become deviant. Thus Becker argued, “Deviance is not a quality that lies in behaviour itself, but in the interaction between the potential deviant and the agents of social control.”
The view that deviance is created by society, in particular by the rules created by society has received several criticisms the main of which is the opinion that such a position exonerates the deviant or the criminal by criminalising society itself.
This is intellectual effusion which is normal among academics, especially those of Western training.
What I wish to borrow from Becker’s analysis is the question of who creates law, for who and by whose mandate.
There are several points to note regarding this question of the legitimacy of a legal system inherited from the coloniser.
As pointed out earlier, to begin with the coloniser designed the system to prop colonial interests.
These interests included the systematic impoverishment of the natives and ensuring that these were perpetually kept in a poverty trap that would serve the purpose of maintaining a labour pool that would prop the Whiteman’s economy in Rhodesia and after.
Any accurate reading of the origin of the Whiteman’s laws including the evolution of the law profession would show that law was established not to protect the rights of all humans, but to protect private property against the propertyless.
This is the historical background that explains the social deviance and criminal tendencies in A Tragedy of Lives.
It is the bigger picture missed by both the victims and officials of the justice system.
The crisis of consciousness discussed in the previous submission has all to do with failure to engage the larger picture and for your own benefit I will summarise this crucial background.
Colonial land policies in Rhodesia illustrate the purpose of law then and to a large extent even now.
Let us begin with the colonial land policies.
The Native Reserves Order in Council (1898) created the infamous Native Reserves for blacks only.
The Native Reserves were set up haphazardly in low potential areas.
Then the Land Apportionment Act (1930) formalised separation by law the land between blacks and whites.
The fertile high rainfall areas became large scale privately owned white farms.
The Native Land Husbandry Act (1951) reinforced private ownership of land, destocking and conservation practices on black small holders.
The Tribal Trust lands (TTL) Act (1965) was devised to change the name of the Native Reserves and create trustees for the land.
The result was high population densities on TTLs which made them degraded ‘homelands’.
Note that all the confessions begin formulaically by citing the poverty experienced in these areas where the Blacks are trapped.
When you understand the structural set-up of the colonial government then you know that the crimes committed by the victims are caused by the system and the legal sub-system was a custodian of such an arrangement.
There is also no question that colonial education was another component of the colonial project to dehumanise Africans by imposing both inner and outer colonisation.
Both inner and outer colonisation were based on the premise that Africans would assimilate into the European life styles and values that were themselves a threat to the identity and self-perceptions of the indigenous people.
To a greater extent colonial education led to psycho-cultural alienation, and cultural domination.
The introduction of colonial education was meant to serve the interests of colonial administrators who were in control of the political and socio-economic systems.
African schools served the colonial system by providing a pool of cheap labour. The deliberate devaluation of African cultures led to the hierarchical control and exploitation of indigenous people in a manner that was consistent with the colonial and imperial project.
Eurocentric knowledge was used to control the social, moral, and economic lives of indigenous Africans.
Writing in How Europe underdeveloped Africa, Walter Rodney points out that: “The educated Africans were the most alienated on the continent.
“At each further stage of education, they were battered and succumbed to the White capitalist, and after being given salaries, they could then afford (if ever they did) to sustain a style of life imported from outside … That further transformed their mentality.”
The few Africans who imbibed the Whiteman’s education are the ones used to implement the Whiteman’s system in the legal fraternity vachitemera fellow Africans makore okugara mumajeri evarungu where their anger/alienation can only be hardened.
There is no attempt at redemptive rehabilitation in the inherited Whiteman’s penal system.
Such a system can only succeed in creating abnormal complexes which dehumanise and de-Africanise them leading to greater vicious circle.
Is it not time to re-Africanise the legal system?


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