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Traditional Laws – Are They Still Relevant?

Legal pluralism is not uncommon in many countries which were once colonies of western powers.

In an era where colonisation was the norm, colonial masters introduced new cultures, lifestyle, and laws to the lands in which they sought to have influence.

Swaziland is no different from the many African countries with legal pluralism. There are so- called “western courts” where common law and statutory law is administered by state appointed judicial officers.

Then there are traditional structures where Swazi customary law is administered by chiefs appointed by a complex Royal order which is beyond the scope of this article to discuss.

The result is that there are two sets of laws which may at any time find application over identical legal matters. It is important to note that customary law is not just a simple set of rigid rules, but it is a system developed over time from rich historic foundations, and it has been able to survive and keep pace with modernisation.

In a bid to combat climate change and environmental degradation, the global community is in the process of making alterations to policies and legal frameworks. Traditional structures and customary law, as institutions catering to a certain group of the population, should not be left out of the race against climate change. What is therefore necessary is making sure that traditional courts have the capacity to understand and deal with issues pertaining to climate change and preservation of environmental integrity.

Customary law must also be developed to recognise that all activity that has an impact on the environment should be regulated in an equitable and reasonable manner. What must be emphasised is that many cultural and traditional social events may no longer be possible if nothing is done about the looming threat of water shortage, extinction of animal and plant species, desertification, and other effects of uncontrolled human activity.

It would be erroneous to conclude that traditional structures are irrelevant in African communities, as many people still opt to seek recourse from customary law. It is thus vital that even in the context of legal protection of our natural environment, customary law should also be developed to regulate human activity.

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