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Africa Vera
Brian MacGarry
Gesuita dello Zimbabwe
A life for a life
The Shona traditional way of dealing with culpable homicide was based on the idea of giving a life for a life, not, as in the Old Testament and the societies influenced by it, a death for a death.

The killer's family was required to give a daughter in marriage to a son of the victim's family, providing a child or children to replace the victim. In the long run, this created a whole network of new kinship to bind the two families together.

A modern sensitivity to women's rights might be offended by this, but it worked in a rural context where people lived close to their extended families. Elders exercised more control over young people's choice of partner and among an extended family there would always be a number of «daughters» to offer and of «sons» ready to accept one of them. There was probably more freedom for them than we can imagine.

Of course, moving to the anonymity, of mass urban society puts people into a different context which demands other responses. A society that believed restoration of balance was the most important response to crime finds it has been given a set of laws based on the idea of retribution. This is not only an African problem and we might well ask whether any society has solved it yet. The West, with the notable exception of the Usa, may have rejected the notion of punishing crime, but what is put in place of punishment? And, having introduced the notion of retribution into emerging urban societies, they sound less convincing if they now turn to people in those societies and say punishment doesn't work.