Zimbabweans Upset After Judges Spend $150K on Wigs

The Zimbabwean government reportedly spent over $150,000 importing legal wigs from the UK for local judges. The report sparked outrage among Zimbabweans, who have historically grappled with rampant corruption, economic stagnation, and skyrocketing hyperinflation.

Local reports found that the Judicial Service Commission of Zimbabwe ordered 64 horsehair wigs from London-based Stanley Ley Legal Outfitters, with each piece costing $2,428. Wigs can cost from $599 for a standard barrister to $3,265 for a judge’s ceremonial wig. CNN reached out to the owner of Stanley Ley who confirmed the shipping of wigs but said that the number of wigs shipped according to local Zimbabwe reports is inaccurate.

While the number of wigs is in dispute, Zimbabwean lawyers and activists lashed out at the lavish purchase, pointing out that the items show a “mismanagement of financial resources” as many nationals are struggling to access legal services. Others expressed that the wigs are a representation of the complicated relationship between Zimbabwe and the British Empire.

“The judicial wig (colonial) tradition continues in #Zimbabwe with all its costs and controversy without any meaningful benefit to access to justice,” Arnold Tsunga, Africa director for the International Commission of Jurists, tweeted on March 29. https://twitter.com/tsunga_arnold/status/1111707530781167616?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1111707530781167616&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cnn.com%2F2019%2F04%2F05%2Fafrica%2Fzimbabwe-judges-wigs-gbr-intl-scli%2Findex.html "I have argued that this country suffers from a catastrophic mismanagement of resources. How do you explain a government allocating $155,000 for wigs to be bought in England when the same government is failing to buy bandages and betadine for infants in pediatric wards,” Zimbabwean journalist and documentary filmmaker Hopewell Chin’ono said. "These are people who shout about sovereignty and anti-colonial rhetoric and yet they are still wearing hideous wigs."

Chin’ono added that the former colonial powers are “having a laugh” at Zimbabwe. "You can take Zimbabwe out of the empire, but you can't take the empire out of Zimbabwe," the journalist continued. “Colonialism, mental oppression, Stockholm syndrome in Africans that sees their colonizers as heroes and saviors was designed. The judicial wigs that African lawyers wear, the robes, the penal system is all European purposely designed to remind Africans they're still not free,” another Twitter user said.

Former British colonies including Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi still allow the use of judicial wigs, despite fighting for independence from the British 50 years ago. As Zimbabweans try to understand the government’s expenses on wigs, the country is grappling with an economic meltdown that followed Emmerson Mnangagwa’s ouster of Robert Mugabe as the country’s leader in 2017, News24 quoted The Financial Times as saying. The World Bank noted that the country would struggle to stabilize its economy due to its unsustainable fiscal deficit.

The International Monetary Fund said that Zimbabwe’s national debt is currently at more than $10 billion.

About the Author

Robert Valencia is the breaking news editor for The North Star. His work as editor and reporter appeared on Newsweek, World Politics Review, Mic.com, Public Radio International and The Miami Herald, among other outlets. He’s a frequent commentator on foreign affairs and US politics on Al Jazeera English, CNN en Español, Univision, Telemundo, Voice of America, C-SPAN, Sirius XM and other media outlets across Latin America and the Caribbean.