The legacy of colonial era also contributed greatly to the outbreak of Gukurahundi .Repressive legislation can be dated back to the beginnings of colonialism, with various pass laws, tax laws, land laws and a myriad of other racially biased laws, all of which served to ensure the economic and educational supremacy of a small white elite, which was never more than 6.2% of the population, at the expense of the black majority. These laws, their purposes and consequences have been dealt with at length by others. One of the main results of 90 years of colonial laws was that ordinary blacks came to see the law as their enemy: After independence some sections of the black community did not feel that the new black Government was just which also triggered dissident activity.

It never occurred to them to seek redress of their grievances through the courts. It was absurd. They knew it would be fruitless, that the deck was always stacked against them. Since then, that attitude toward the law has remained.

Even where awareness of possible legal redress existed among victims of abuse in first the 1970s and then the 1980s, fear of further retribution was an over-riding factor in keeping people away from suing government agencies. In the 1980s, ZAPU leaders who were well aware of their supposed legal rights, were being persecuted and were in hiding.They feared making their whereabouts known by seeking legal redress. In addition, people faced economic constraints legal advice was often beyond their financial reach.

The policy of protecting Government personnel was established during the rule of the Rhodesian Front (RF). As the war for majority rule intensified, so did the repressive legislation. Before UDI was declared in 1965, a state of emergency was announced. This gave the Government the power to legislate by regulation, rather than through Parliament.

Regulations included the Emergency Powers (Maintenance of Law and Order) Regulations, which gave sweeping powers of arrest and detention without trial, the right to control meetings, and so on. Using emergency powers, the Government had the right to override almost all fundamental rights in existence under the Constitution, if this was deemed necessary to maintain law and order.

Rights which the State could curtail under these powers included: personal liberty, freedom from arbitrary search or entry, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and association, freedom of movement, and freedom from discrimination. These laws were used to ban political parties and meetings, detain people without trial for indefinite periods, and enforce extensive curfews, to mention some of their applications.

The state of emergency had to be renewed every six months by Parliament, and remained in force from shortly before UDI in 1965, until ten years after Independence, being finally lifted in July 1990. During those twenty-five years, emergency powers were used to authorise many infringements of human rights by both the RF and ZANU-PF governments.

Both the Rhodesian Front and ZANU-PF Governments also passed indemnity laws. These were, respectively, the Indemnity and Compensation Act 45 of 1975, which was repealed in 1980, and the Emergency Powers (Security Forces Indemnity) Regulations 1982 (SI 487/1982), which fell away when the State of Emergency was lifted in 1990.

In terms of these laws, all State officials and members of the security forces were granted immunity from prosecution, if their actions were "in good faith" and "for the purposes of or in connection with the suppression of terrorism" (the 1975 law) or "for the purposes of or in connection with the preservation of the security of Zimbabwe" (the 1982 law). These laws, together with the Presidential amnesty for all dissidents and security forces declared in 1988, meant that human rights abusers were once more not held accountable, no matter how severe their crimes.

In addition to inheriting a formidable array of repressive laws from the previous regime, Zimbabwe also inherited an Army and Central Intelligence Organisation which retained some men who had participated in the torture of many Black people during the war. Emmerson Mnangagwa, the Zimbabwean Minister responsible for the CIO in the 1980s, would point out to his visitors the old CIO members who had personally tortured him when the RF held power.

The very men who had been responsible for inhuman and degrading torture in the 1970s used exactly the same methods to torture civilians in the 1980s. This has been well documented, by Africa Watch, Amnesty International, the CCJP Confidential Report on Torture (1987), and the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights.

Minister Mnangagwa maintained that he had no option but to retain the old CIO agents, as ZANLA did not have a well-developed intelligence unit to replace it, and the "old CIO guard" had key information in certain areas. However, ZIPRA had a well-established intelligence unit which it was not asked to make available to the new Government, and consequently, the unit was dismantled.