Human Rights in Post-Independent Zimbabwe: The Bill of Rights

Sarah Helen Chiumbu, M. Phil.

Zimbabwe was granted independence under the Lancaster House Constitution (LHC) of 1979. This Constitution had a provision which entrenched the Declaration of Rights (or Bill of Rights) for ten years from the date of independence. One offensive feature of the Constitution was the provision that out of 100 seats in the lower house of the House of Assembly, of those seats had to be filled by whites. There were a number of important provisions in the Constitution which could not be amended for 10 years expect by a 100% vote, an impossibility considering the seat provision.

The justiciable Bill of Rights provided by the government was important because at this time, the country had no human rights jurisprudence because Rhodesia had had no justiciable Bill of Rights. However, this Bill of Rights was handicapped from the beginning because it was not championed by the nationalists who had fought the war, but by the settler government delegation represented by the Smith-Muzorewa marriage of inconvenience. The nationalists argued that some of the provisions of the Bill of Rights were designed to entrench the privileges of whites, especially relating to the protection of property (Mandaza 1986). It is very important to note here that while most of the world's Bill of Rights are formulated, adopted and incorporated into national constitutions by the people themselves, Zimbabwe's Constitution was partly imposed on the people as Ncube points out:

Zimbabwe's Constitution ... from the beginning of its adoption in 1979, was seen ... as a liability, a fundamentally flawed document ... thus from the beginning Zimbabwe's Constitution was undermined and its legitimacy called into question with the consequence that the rights and freedoms it sought to protect were also from the beginning undermined in their legitimacy (Ncube, 2).

The fact that the Constitution of the country is seen as a liability is confirmed in Robert Mugabe's remark on it:

Yes, even as I signed the document ... I was not a happy man at all. I felt we had been cheated to some extent ... that we had agreed to a deal which would to some extent rob us of the victory we had hoped to have achieved in the field (cited in Mandaza 1991: 73).

Nonetheless, it was important that the new country established a Bill of Rights. It sets out the rights to which every person in Zimbabwe is entitled.


Ncube, W. "Constitutionalism, Democracy, and Political Practice in Zimbabwe," in The One-Part State and Democracy: The Zimbabwe Debate. Eds. I. Mandaza and L. Sachikonye. Harere: Sapes Trust, 1991.

Ncube, W. "The Constitution as a Liability: Zimbabwe's Experience with a Bill of Rights." in Bill of Rights Conference. Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, 1994.

[from Sarah Helen Chiumbu, Democracy, Human Rights, and the Media: A Case Study of Two Human Rights Organizations and the Media in Zimbabwe. Oslo: University of Oslo, 1997, pages 72-73. Available from Department of Media and Communications [].

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