The Covid-19 pandemic has placed the justice system in limbo as traditional courts remain closed in response to the global pandemic.
Traditional leaders play a key role in dispute resolution and enabling access to justice for rural communities.
Traditional leaders who spoke to Habakkuk Trust recently said they have been postponing most of the traditional court proceedings because of the COVID-19 induced lockdown and in a case that needs urgent attention, they ensure that they limit the number of people attending.
“Everything has been put on hold as a result of the lockdown,” said Chief Bango. “We understand that these government regulations are meant to protect us hence my court has been closed since the beginning of the lockdown. We have been working with other community leaders to advise people to resolve their issues amicably. Fortunately, we have not received any urgent cases so far.”
Traditional courts are the closest link to access to justice for rural communities.
A village head in Bulilima Ward 10 said they have had some court proceedings where people were advised not to let their livestock graze in other people’s farms. “As the traditional court, we recognize the importance of protecting people’s health, less than 20 people normally attend the meeting called by the Headman- only village heads and contesting parties attend the court in most cases.” He said social distancing and mandatory wearing of masks are often adhered to.
Another village head from Matobo District said only village development committees meet on issues relating to the distribution of food aid otherwise there are no traditional court proceedings being done currently.
“All cases that were supposed to be heard during this period were postponed indefinitely. Our usual cases emanate from social interactions hence they have been significantly reduced because of the lockdown.”
As a way of preventing COVID-19 community infections, traditional leaders have been playing a key role in ensuring adherence to lockdown regulations.