On July 13, 2016, the Constitutional Court of Zimbabwe (ConCourt) found that life imprisonment without the possibility of parole was unconstitutional as it violated the rights to equal protection and human dignity and the prohibition on cruel and degrading punishment. The decision, Makoni v. Commissioner of Prisons, is undoubtedly a victory for human rights, due to the dismal state of prison conditions in Zimbabwe and the emotional and psychological harm caused by indeterminate sentences. In its decision, the ConCourt cited a wide range of jurisprudence from foreign and international courts, including the European Court of Human Rights, South African Constitutional Court, Supreme Court of Namibia, and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London to discern a global trend toward rehabilitative criminal sentences. Many of these foreign and international legal sources were brought to the ConCourt’s attention by transnational human rights lawyers themselves in their Heads of Argument, underscoring the important role that advocates play in the diffusion of international human rights norms.
For perhaps too long, the conventional wisdom has been that the best can come only from abroad; meaning Europe and America. From the perspective of constitutional law, the South African Constitution did more than just provide a clean break with the past. It provided a modern constitution which successfully borrowed and adapted many of the best principles from some of the major modern European constitutional models to fit with the realities of the country. Whilst not perfect, and there shall never be a perfect constitution, it shows how Africans can creatively find solutions to their problems.But it is perhaps the South African Constitutional Court, through the voluminous amount of jurisprudence that it has produced since 1995,that has attracted the most attention from constitutional experts all over the world and given rise to the feeling that the centre of modern constitutionalism might well be moving to Africa. For a continent that has been obsessed with blindly copying from the former colonial powers, there are many reasons to start looking at itself.Even the 1990s constitutional reforms in other African countries were still influenced by the inherited colonial constitutional models.