As is often the way in law, difficult and complex problems can be solved in a number of ways and these ways have evolved over the past couple of years. Zimbabwe is, indeed, no stranger to these newer trends. In particular, the 10th of December 2019 saw the introduction of the Consumer Protection Act [Chapter 14:44] (the Act) in Zimbabwe, signifying a shift in Dispute Resolution in the consumer market.
Section 60 of the Act introduced Arbitration as a mechanism to resolve disputes in consumer transactions. It repealed Section 4 (2) (f) of the Arbitration Act [Chapter 7:15], which prohibited arbitration of disputes between consumers and suppliers. Consequently, disputes between consumers and suppliers or service providers are now arbitrable. Further, the Act gives wide powers to the arbitrators by placing them at the same pedestal as Courts i.e., the Arbitrator shall have the same powers as the court in hearing and resolving any such dispute1.
Like anything new, the implementation of these provisions has taken time and this method of dispute resolution is yet to be experienced in the context of the Act. There has been a lot of lobbying and submissions by different groups in the industry pushing for the implementation of the provisions of this Act.
On 16 April 2021 the Industry and Commerce Minister Sekai Nzenza, with the concurrence of President Mnangagwa, announced the appointment of seven Commissioners to the Consumer Protection Board. Among their many duties, one of them is to “facilitate” the Arbitration of Consumer Contracts as provided for in the Act. The appointment of Commissioners is aimed at kickstarting this process with the ultimate goal of making the country a more attractive jurisdiction for parties to resolve consumer contracts disputes. This development certainly represents a major stride in achieving this goal.
This forum provides an opportunity to quickly resolve disputes and have it done by experts in the field. The team at Manokore Attorneys is keeping a close eye on these developments and is persuaded that this platform’s use is likely to attract many corporates who are keen to find a cost-effective, faster, way to resolve disputes. This presents Zimbabwe with an opportunity to align itself with global trends that provide for arbitration in Consumer Contracts. The international commercial community’s reaction to this new development remains to be seen but it can only be positive.