Accepted Paper:

Truth telling and intimacy: The case of the 'community courts' of Mozambique   


Fabio Provenzano ( University of Copenhagen )

Paper short abstract:

The paper draws on fieldwork conducted from August 2015 to April 2016 in Maputo, Mozambique. It investigates actors’ strategies of truth-telling during ‘informal court’ sessions and explores the moral economy of actors’ performances in the negotiation of sentences, along with other practices.

Paper long abstract:

Since the early 1990s, Mozambique has been experimenting with a transition from a socialist to a capitalist system. This has involved various political reforms affecting, among other spheres, its juridical system. Such changes have included opening up the space for many indigenous organisations to re-emerge, strengthening the role of traditional leaders and local institutions in settling disputes in both rural and urban areas. Among the most popular of these institutions is the 'community court', a hybrid institution combining both the European colonial and Mozambican traditional legal orders, used for solving cases from witchcraft accusations to land disputes. These courts number around 40 units in Maputo alone, the Mozambican capital.

This paper investigates actors' strategies of truth-telling during 'community court' sessions in Maputo. It explores the moral economy of actors' performances in the negotiation of sentences, as well as such practices as judges seeking to attain a certain degree of intimacy with various participants in the courts, and the use of objects symbolising state authority. It notes that the emphasis within court sessions has been primarily on the representations of the defendants shared by 'community' members, rather than on evidence related to the cases. Moreover, such information was often used as proof of a defendant's disregard of 'community' obligations. The paper is part of ongoing research on city inhabitants' perceptions of 'community judges'. It draws on fieldwork conducted in Maputo from August 2015 to April 2016, including interviews and six months of participant observation inside two community courts in the outskirts of the city

Panel P063
Evidence in question: anthropological authority and legal judgment [Anthropology of Law and Rights]