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Misleading Cases in Colonial Law

Courtesy of OSPA
by Gervas Clay

When is a dog not a dog?

Case 1
For a few months in 1945 I was District Commissioner at Lusaka, the Capital of Northern Rhodesia. One day the local Superintendent of Police came to my office and asked for my advice. He told me that a European resident on the outskirts of the town was keeping a tame cheetah which was causing a good deal of alarm and despondency among the neighbours, who felt it was a danger to their children. What, he asked, was he to do about it? I replied that to the best of my knowledge and belief there was no known case of a cheetah attacking a human being, and I added that if he would look in the Laws of Northern Rhodesia he would find a Control of Dogs Ordinance and that the definition of a dog was roughly "any tame or semi-tame carnivorous animal". I suggested, therefore, that the cheetah was by definition a dog and should be licensed as such and made to wear a collar. I added that in my view, this was the intention of the law, because anyone seeing a cheetah wearing a collar would know that it was a tame animal. I am sorry to say that no action was taken and within a week a neighbour had shot and killed the cheetah.

Case 2
Some years later I was Deputy to the Senior Provincial Commissioner at Ndola which was the capital of the Copperbelt. One day, when the S.P.C. was away on duty visiting outstations, I had a telephone call telling me that His Excellency the Governor woud be coming to lunch with me that day. It so happened that my wife was away and that my four small children were in the house. At this time there was an outbreak of rabies in the Copperbelt area and this meant that there was a tie-up order on all dogs. Just before or during lunch my old cocker spaniel managed to get out of the house, and walked out of the garden to the edge of the road where he cocked his leg before returning to the house. It happened that his excursion was noticed by a Policeman, and in due course I was summoned before the court of the Resident Magistrate for having a dog loose and not under control. I did not feel that I could quote the visit of His Excellency in my defence, but I did feel indignant, and when I appeared before the court I pleaded "Not Guilty" and explained that because the tie-up order applied to dogs only, all the neighbourhood cats had become thoroughly impertinent and strolled about gardens as if they owned them, to the fury of the tied-up dogs. I claimed that as cats were by definition dogs (see para. I above) all cats should be licensed at once as being tame or semi-tame carnivorous animals. I added that if a tame chicken should be seen to pick up and eat a morsel of meat - which must happen quite often, - it also was a dog and must be licensed as such. The court was interested but unimpressed and I was duly found guilty of the offence, charged, and fined. I can't help feeling that A. P. Herbert would have enjoyed making a misleading case of these facts

When is a river a highway?
My second case is somewhat different, in that it never came to court. However, once again, the facts would have amused A. P. Herbert. By definition of the Laws of Northern Rhodesia, a Boma in the bush was defined as a township with a radius of 1 mile from the flagstaff. One of the townships so defined was old Sesheke - now known as Mwandi. The flagstaff was probably some 300 yards from the Zambezi river and even closer when the river overflowed its banks. On the far side of the river were a number of backwaters, full of hippos. The further side was also in the Caprivi strip which came under the administration of the South African Government. I enjoyed myself thinking out a misleading case in which I, the District Commissioner and therefore in effect the Mayor of the township, went out by boat at night and shot a hippo. I assumed that I would be run in for shooting at night, apart from any international side to the case for shooting in another territory. My excuse would have been that I was suppressing a nuisance in one of the main streets of my township.

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