At a time when Zimbabwe is facing economic difficulties, the country’s legal authorities have reportedly ordered powdered wigs worth thousands of dollars for senior judges. Dozens of handmade horsehair wigs, costing up to £2,000 each (over 2,000 dollars), have been ordered from a specialist shop in London, Stanley Ley Legal Outfitters, for the top echelons of the judiciary, according to the Zimbabwe Independent.
The move has drawn criticisms from many people, considering the country is in the midst of an economic crisis, struggling with widespread fuel and medicine shortages and a surge in
“The conditions in Zimbabwe’s courts are dire and yet they can find money for wigs costing thousands of pounds — it’s obnoxious,” Arnold Tsunga, of the International Commission of Jurists, was quoted by The Times.
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The ordering of the wigs is also coming at a time when there is a debate over whether Zimbabwean judges should continue using the wigs, which is seen by many as a colonial relic.
The tradition of wearing horsehair wigs, perukes, ‘a term derived from the French word perruque (weaving wig)’ and gowns by the judiciary predates the 15th Century. In the 14th Century, during the reign of King Edward III, the accepted costume for nobles who appeared before the Court of the king was the robe.
Later in the 17th century, the gown was adopted together with the peruke (horsehair wig) as the formal apparel of judges and lawyers, a bid to differentiate the elite from the commoners.
Originally, judges were required to wear purple robes on ordinary days, and red robes in ceremonial instances and criminal matters with the possibility of a death sentence decision. After the death of the king, however, they were changed into mourning gowns of black, a change that was later adopted by all.
After half a century into the end of colonialism, courts in many parts of Africa still cling to this old English tradition. While the originators of this tradition have long abandoned it, some African jurists have written scholarly papers and given talks on why the wig and gown tradition should not be abolished in their courts.
Many African lawyers are against the wearing of wigs and gowns but they are faced with fierce opposition from legal bodies that set strict regulations.
To those in support of the tradition, the air of weight the wigs and gowns carry with them is the only thing needed to bring sanity into the courtrooms.
In Zimbabwe, some senior judges argue that the wigs are important to maintain tradition and professionalism. But many say that this argument is highly flawed.
Lloyd Masipa, a London lawyer from Zimbabwe, said: “A lot of Zimbabwe’s institutions are mentally stuck in the past. We fought against the British for our freedom and yet now impose on ourselves many traditions that even the British no longer always observe.”
Here’s how people are reacting to the development: