When in doubt get the brutal colonial laws out

Over the weekend, the Mozambican authorities decided that it was time to put an end to the 5-day doctors’ strike that had paralysed the nation’s healthcare system. And so they brought out the big stick – a repressive law that ‘allowed’ them to on sedition charges.

Richard Lee's picture

Author

Strategic communications for WWF

May 28th, 2013

Over the weekend, the Mozambican authorities decided that it was time to put an end to the 5-day doctors’ strike that had paralysed the nation’s healthcare system. And so they brought out the big stick – a repressive law that ‘allowed’ them to on sedition charges. But this is no ordinary law – this is a relic of the Portuguese colonial era, a brutal piece of legislation that was designed to keep Mozambicans in their place.

And yet here it was being unleashed by FRELIMO – the country’s independence movement. On a doctor demanding nothing more than a decent wage.

Sadly, Mozambique is just following a trend in southern Africa. Instead of repealing the most repressive colonial legislation, many countries left them on the statute books – either because they had so many other things to do or because they had an inkling that they might come in handy somewhere down the line.

And so it’s proved. In Zambia, President Sata’s government and his pet police force are increasingly resorting to the appalling to crack down on opposition activities – even though he had pledged to repeal it on the campaign trail.  Meanwhile, in Swaziland, King Mswati and his cronies have long relied on their own of 1963 as well as the even older and more draconian of 1938.

And across the border in South Africa, the ANC – faced with the scandal of the government secretly spending over R200 million of taxpayers money on ‘upgrading the security’ President Zuma’s private pad – tried to silence critics and the media by invoking the unashamedly authoritarian, .

This is not to say that southern African countries have not passed some pretty oppressive legislation since independence – Zimbabwe, in particular, has perfected the art – but the reality is that when push comes to shove governments reach for the best weapons in their arsenals – the vicious laws that were used with such brutal abandon against all those who struggled for freedom from colonialism.

It is time that governments in southern Africa stopped resorting to laws imposed on their ‘colonial subjects’ by the British and Portuguese – and started repealing them.

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