The model of community service being developed in Zimbabwe has been
established in a way which largely overcomes the problems that have been identified as
reducing the effectiveness of alternatives to prison. A very significant feature is the
National Steering Committee. The Committee was established by the Government with the
remit of developing community service but it operates independently. The membership of the
Committee is a key element. The Committee is chaired by a High Court Judge who was
formerly the Chief Magistrate and Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Justice. Other
members include another High Court Judge, the Deputy Chairman of the Law Development
Commission, the Africa representative of the Christian group, Prison Fellowship, and
others representing social welfare agencies. Having such a membership ensures that the
problem of persuading judges and magistrates to use community service is not a problem
since the whole project is judicially-driven at a high level. Having the social welfare,
ngo and other representatives whose support is needed as members also ensures that the
practicalities can be sorted out at the right level.
The second important element about the National Steering Committee is
that it is a working committee. Before the scheme started the members toured the country
between March and June 1994 running and speaking at eight regional seminars for
magistrates and all the other important local interests such as the placement providers.
They also produce guidance and other literature for all those involved and give their
phone numbers if anyone has any difficulties. This means that, for example, a member of
staff in a special school responsible for supervising offenders on community service could
ring up a High Court Judge to get advice on what to do if there was a problem. The
placement providers therefore feel they are involved in an important national initiative.
Thirdly, the members of the National Steering Committee are in a
position to get necessary things done. For example they dealt with the worries of
placement providers by getting the government to bring in a regulation that indemnified
providers against any damage done by offenders on community service.
Fourth, the instruction to magistrates to use community service for
those who would otherwise be sent to prison for twelve months or less ensures that those
undertaking community service would certainly otherwise be in prison. The reduction in
imprisonment by the 12,000 who have already been given community service makes a real
difference to the conditions in Zimbabwean prisons for the other 22,000 prisoners and the
staff working there.
Fifth the local system of giving the responsibility for administering
community service to District Committees chaired by the local Provincial Magistrate and
involving all interested parties including those providing work opportunities for the
offenders has many advantages. Community service is judicially controlled at the local
level. It has the status that comes from being under the control of the magistrates and
this affects the public's perceptions of it. Co-operation on the District Committees
between the magistrates and the providers ensures that consistency is maintained,
standards of supervision are set and local difficulties are dealt with.
The Zimbabwean model is perhaps particularly successful and relevant to
developing countries because it is low cost. It does not attempt to emulate the structures
of rich countries, where alternatives to prison are supervised and administered by a
separate publicly-funded service. It establishes a penal model based on productive work
and fruitful relationships between offender and community, rather than unproductive time
and ruptured relationships. Culturally it relates to African traditions and history. Amos
Wako, Attorney-General of Kenya, said at a conference in December 1995
" In traditional Africa, a criminal who is taken to prison, or who is
ex-communicated from the society, is one who is actually beyond repair through societal
means, or who has committed a major crime. What is recorded in our legal books as petty
crimes by African standards were completely dealt with by the society itself. For example,
if one stole a goat, the elders made sure another goat was paid and that was the end of
the matter. The person who stole was so ashamed that he would not do it again"
(Attorney-General's Chambers 1996) .