Bulawayo Legal Projects Centre

The genesis of the Bulawayo Legal Projects Centre is found in the activities of two Zimbabwe law Students in the 1970s. Ian …

The genesis of the Bulawayo Legal Projects Centre is found in the activities of two Zimbabwe law Students in the 1970s. Ian Donovan in the early 1970s was instrumental in setting up the Legal Aid Clinic at then the University of Rhodesia. David Coltart was Director of the Crossroads Legal Aid Clinic run by the University of Cape Town in the late 1970s. On David Coltart’s return to Zimbabwe from the University of Cape Town in 1983 he set up a legal aid clinic in Bulawayo under the auspices of the Bulawayo Legal Practitioners’ Association. This legal aid clinic was located in offices donated by the Anglo American Corporation in Charter House and was run on a tiny budget using the voluntary services of lawyers in private practice in Bulawayo.

At the beginning of 1984 the Ford Foundation organised a conference at the University of Zimbabwe to analyse Zimbabwe’s legal aid needs. Government at the time presented ambitious plans to set up a legal aid system in Zimbabwe but stressed that financial constraints would hinder the setting-up of such a Governmental structure. At the end of that Conference Ian Donovan, the Honourable Mr Justice Enoch Dumbutshena, Professor Reg Austin, Mrs Eileen Sawyer and others resolved to establish the Legal Resources Foundation which was set up in terms of a Trust Deed towards the end of 1984. In the early part of 1986 Ian Donovan and David Coltart met to discuss whether the existing Bulawayo Legal Aid Clinic could be re-vamped into a second operational arm of the Legal Resources Foundation, to be known as the Bulawayo Legal Projects Centre. Because of the absence of a comprehensive system of legal aid in Zimbabwe the majority of Zimbabweans had, and still have, very limited access to the justice system. The vast majority of Zimbabweans cannot afford lawyers in private practice and as a result most of them are unrepresented in court and have pitiful knowledge of their rights.

To this day some 95% of people going through our criminal courts are unrepresented. Statistics show that people who are represented by legal practitioners in criminal trials are far more likely to get off with a fine or a suspended sentence than those who are unrepresented. The situation for poor people in rural areas is even worse. In Matabeleland nearly all lawyers and law firms are located in Bulawayo and the legal system is very inaccessible in the rural areas. The paralegal programme is designed to combat these problems as far as possible within the limited financial resources of the Legal Resources Foundation. Lawyers in private practice continued to provide free legal advice during lunch hours and to this day some lawyers in private practice still come to the lunchtime legal aid clinics which are conducted at the offices of the Bulawayo Legal Projects Centre. Towards the end of 1987 Bulawayo Legal Projects Centre employed its first lawyer, Mr Stephens Nkiwane. His job was to recruit and train paralegals who would set up legal advice centres initially in the high density suburbs of Bulawayo. The first paralegal to be trained was Mrs Chipo Nyathi and at the beginning of 1988. By  1989 the Bulawayo Legal Projects Centre had established further legal advice centres in Luveve, Njube, and Tshabalala suburbs of Bulawayo.

 


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