We cannot live without law

We will have to reconstruct much in our society before Zimbabwe ceases to be a 'failed state'.

One law we found particularly oppressive ordered us to dig and maintain contour ridges.
One law we found particularly oppressive ordered us to dig and maintain contour ridges.

We have lost a sense of community; we don't try to live with other people, which would require both sides to adjust their behaviour so as to live together smoothly. Instead, too many people live in a permanent state of war with those around them, trying to shape the world and other people to their liking.

Just compare the Highway Code with the way people behave on the road. You will see we are living in an anarchic situation. Pedestrians cross the road at their own risk, even at a robot. If the lights change, nobody will give you a chance to continue across; least of all those fat people, bursting with anger, who drive spotless 4x4s that never saw a dust road.

Every human society has developed its set customs by which its members agree to live. When people began to read and write, they wrote down their customs and called them laws. Often a ruler supervised the writing of laws, but if he called them his laws things started to go wrong. People will freely obey laws they respect because they helped to make them or the laws are reasonable. Imposing law provokes rebellion.

Here is a very different example showing how we all need to learn: We told ourselves independence meant freedom from laws.

One law we found particularly oppressive ordered us to dig and maintain contour ridges.

That was meant to prevent soil erosion, which is a good aim. Fining us if they were not in perfect shape in February when we were too busy with other tasks like weeding and protecting our ripening crops from baboons, was an oppressive misuse of power. We didn't see white farmers forced to obey this law, and that was unjust. Because old-style district administrators were oppressive, we rejected all their rules. We threw the baby out with the bath water. Now we have destroyed land we all depend on, making hillsides into desert and silting up our rivers.

There are methods that colonial administrators didn't think of for saving what we have left and slowly repairing some of the damage.

If we were to plough along the contours, as in the picture, taken during the rainy season, our fields would absorb more water and lose less soil. “Minimum tillage” is another method that might do these jobs better. A law to penalise people who cause soil erosion would help us all. Dictating one method for preventing it was a colonial error.

That is just another example to show we cannot live without law.

So it will not be enough for us to have a new constitution. People must be able to respect it and obey it. It would be a disaster if, like the last time, we were asked our opinion but the people who wrote the constitution ignored what we had said. If a constitution is to really be rules for our rulers to work by, they must learn to respect us. Otherwise it won't work.

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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