AMANDLA! VANGUARD EDITION
Amy Shupikai Tsanga, Ph.D.
Head of the Family Division of the High Court, Zimbabwe
My Story, Your Inspiration
Documenting professional moments has been key to my personal growth. Without being documented, valuable lessons are lost. Working with grassroots communities starkly brought out that formal law is far from being a starting point in plural legal contexts. Gendered realities and diverse institutional capacities on the ground contribute to limits in the formal law. With limited telecommunications back then, advising a victim of domestic violence to report to the police when the nearest police station could be some 20 to 30 kilometers away was myopic! Grasping such everyday challenges in accessing formal justice in rural settings became action research as part of my Ph.D. thesis. I reduced this into a book, Taking Law to the People: Gender Law Reform and Community Legal Education in Zimbabwe (Harare: Weaver Press, 2003).
As Deputy Director of the Southern and Eastern African Regional Centre for Women's Law (SEARCWL), working with professionally grounded students meant how we taught law was crucial. Infusing grounded research skills was key if they were to have an impact on their work contexts. I, therefore, co-edited a book, Breaking the Mould: Innovative Regional Approaches to Teaching, Researching and Analysing Women and Law. (Harare, Weaver Press, 2011). Those building blocks of understanding law from below are today crucial perspectives in dispensing justice as a judge.
In my case, a tapestry on access to justice has definitely been woven from the diverse experiences that have contoured my professional journey. In the 1980s, working with grassroots communities was novel territory for most lawyers. No doubt there were lawyers with an opinion of where they thought I should be.
My advice is to be true to yourself by embracing your own professional moments. A lot can be learnt and shared from any position in one’s legal career. Use your experiences to soar to other heights.
It is also important to document one’s professional journey and growth in whatever way that one is most comfortable with. For others, storytelling or poetry comes naturally, whilst for some, academic writing may be the outlet. The key is not to be intimidated into believing there is a singular way of capturing important lessons.