Researched by Robert Asketill
With today’s interference by foreign powers in who should rule Libya, without sufficient attention to the future consequences, it might be of interest to look at the past case of Zimbabwe, (Southern Rhodesia) and Cecil Rhodes who originated the racist “land grabs” to which Zimbabwe’s current miseries can ultimately be traced. How can a sovereign state impose liability on another sovereign state? How can Zimbabwe “impose” land reform liability on Britain? This astonishing question is often asked. However, if we look at past history we make an odd discovery — that, Britain actually acquired liability without duress and in its normal and sober senses.
When Cecil John Rhodes and Henry Birchenough and other South African Company (SAC) directors went to England in July 1889 to present a petition to Queen Victoria, the whole motive was to acquire a legal authority to practise “commerce” in Southern Rhodesia. Queen Victoria appointed some intelligent British legislative drafters to first examine the petition and then (if convinced it was a worthy cause) draft the Royal Charter for the British South African Company (BSAC).
Between July and the end of September 1889, there was intense lobbying that the judicial committee of the Privy Council treat Rhodes’ application for a Royal Charter, with great favour. The legislative drafters did their work and came out with 35 sections of the document called the Royal Charter. And then, included in the Charter a “Section 14″ — which is the first written general land title for all tribes in Southern Rhodesia.
For those who have never seen Section 14, it goes as:
“In the administration of justice to the said peoples or inhabitant (tribes), careful regard shall always be had to the customs and laws of the class or tribe or nation to which the parties respectively belong, especially with respect to the holding, possession, transfer and disposition of lands and goods and estate or intestate succession thereto and marriage, divorce and legitimacy, and other rights of property and personal rights but subject to any British laws which may he in force in any of the territories aforesaid and applicable to the peoples or inhabitants thereof”.
No British laws were applicable to the tribes of Zimbabwe in 1889. However this is the first confirmation of the known tribal land title in English law and language. No previous legal writ had yet appeared other than this. Section 14 actually outlawed any forceful land acquisition in future and one can ask: Why did the British legislative drafters include this proviso in the first place? Were they far-sighted enough to consider the possibility of future abuse of the Charter? Indeed the inclusion of this proviso was the first voluntary acquisition of British liability in the Zimbabwean land reform struggles of today.