oa Fundamina : A Journal of Legal History - Abuse of state power : the mandatory death penalty for political crimes in Southern Rhodesia, 1963-1970

Volume 19, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1021-545X
  • E-ISSN: 2411-7870



Shortly before the unilateral secession of Southern Rhodesia (colonial Zimbabwe) from the British Empire under white minority rule, the Rhodesian legislature passed sweeping security legislation authorising more severe criminal punishments for political crimes, including the mandatory death penalty for petrol bombing. This legislation conflicted with Rhodesian criminal sentencing for ordinary crimes such as murder and robbery, which permitted some judicial discretion in capital sentencing. Petrol bombing and the later mandatory death penalty for aggravated arms possession were the only two crimes that did not permit judicial sentencing discretion, making them the two most disproportionate criminal punishments ever passed in wartime Rhodesia. These statutory changes were doggedly opposed on the floor of Parliament by the independent Member of Parliament Dr Ahrn Palley and a handful of liberal and progressive allies. The penalties withstood constitutional challenges that claimed that these disproportionate punishments were cruel, inhuman, and degrading. Although the mandatory death penalty for petrol bombing proved unenforceable and would be repealed, other security legislation survived in independent Zimbabwe, where it fell into disuse but remained on the books.

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