Crisis and Contradiction: Justice Reform, Civil Society and Zimbabwe’s Long Transition

Authors Mark Shaw

ISSN: 1996-2088
Affiliations: SARChI Chair of Justice and Security, Faculty of Law, University of Cape Town
Source: Acta Juridica, 2016, p. 179 – 201


The nature of Zimbabwe’s long political transition since independence has caused untold damage to the country’s judiciary and court system. A strong and independent judiciary will be essential if the country is to successfully navigate the complex and competing politics that are likely to characterise post-Mugabe Zimbabwe and if there is to be any hope of, in the longer term, dealing with issues of transitional justice. While the politicisation of the judiciary is a well-recognised reality, in the context of a fiscal crisis, institutionalised corruption has become an increasing challenge. Nevertheless, the political ground is shifting, both as a result of the 2013 election and as actors begin to consider options for the post-Mugabe era. In this environment, it should not be assumed that staff in the judicial sector hold a uniform set of views. The current context requires that positions are carefully calibrated depending on audience and circumstance, but there are signs that some in the judiciary are acutely aware of the need to show more independence and fight corruption to gain a broader base of legitimacy. In that shifting political reality, the role of a small number of civil society activists working in the justice sector has become more crucial than ever. With little opportunity for raising issues of transitional justice in the current context, civil society must consider the nature of its engagement with the government to position it to play a constructive role in future State-building opportunities. Calibrating the nature and type of that engagement will depend on several possible political scenarios that are considered in this article.