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Gaining vital legal skills through distance learning
Friday, October 27, 2017
Mutare, Zimbabwe

Applications are currently open for our University of London LLM by Distance Learning scholarship. We recently spoke to our highest scoring applicant from last year’s round of applications, Zimbabwean Child Protection specialist, Anthony Musiwa, about the benefits of studying remotely, his focus on "developmental social work with a legal flavour" and what he hopes to achieve following completion of the postgraduate diploma in Law at the UoL.

 

Your undergraduate degree was in Social Work and you are currently working as a Child Protection and Case Management Specialist. What motivates you to pursue a postgraduate legal qualification?

My Social Work degree empowered me with in-depth theoretical knowledge, extensive practical experience and a reflective understanding of various social issues. Indeed, it also facilitated my entry into social work practice where, in the past 9 years, I have worked with orphaned and vulnerable children (OVC) and adolescent girls and young women (AGYW). In addition, as a career-oriented person, I later went on to study for a Master degree in Development Studies in order to expand my knowledge and skills bases to better understand the socio-economic and political challenges facing OVC and AGYW and effectively deliver my services to them.

However, as someone who is continuously introspecting on how I can be better at what I do in order to provide the best possible help to those who need my services, I realised that there was still something missing. My work is aimed at effectively supporting a wide range of OVC and their families within the care continuum (i.e. socially, economically, politically and legally). Obviously, although I work with a diverse team, this responsibility requires me to multi-task. Yet I realised that my strengths were skewed towards the social and economic aspects more than the political and legal ones. There are situations when my contributions and judgements are found wanting and rendered ineffective because of lack of certain skills or knowledge. For instance, exclusion, social injustice and human rights violations among OVC and their families are prevalent issues in my work, yet I do not have sufficient capacity to deal with them.

As such, I made the conscious decision to equip myself with a legal qualification that would ultimately help me be a more effective practitioner. However, I wanted to do this with a program that allows me to continue working and enjoying family and social time at the same time as studying. The program that ended up fulfilling such work, time and study flexibilities was none other than the University of London’s LLM by Distance Learning. Throughout my studies so far, I have come to the conclusion that the program’s well-rounded content enables me to fill the legal and political dimensions missing in my career: something that makes me a better practitioner.

 

How are your studies progressing? Are you finding it manageable to balance work and study commitments?

My studies are progressing perfectly well. I have established a study time-table for myself where I study for about 2 hours every night from Monday to Friday. Because I have never studied law before, I like to take my modules sequentially and gradually so that I grasp the key concepts and issues before progressing to the next ones. I do not study during weekends, unless in the rare occasion where I have to do a make-up session for a period I would have missed in the week. I normally reserve weekends for my family and friends. This is one of the things I appreciate most about this program: flexibility. It allows me to balance my diverse commitments.

 

From studying a postgraduate degree in Development you must have a strong understanding of socio-economic challenges. What would you say are Zimbabwe and the wider region’s main socio-economic challenges?

The challenges facing Zimbabwe mirror those within the wider sub-Saharan African region. As a relatively new and inexperienced democracy, having only achieved independence in 1980, the country has experienced a mixture of socio-economic and political fortunes and problems over the years. A decade of growth and prosperity characterised the 1980s before a heavy downturn, which has persisted up to present day, began in the early 1990s. This situation has largely been a result of poor decision-making and ill-conceived corporatist and liberal capitalist policies, particularly the Economic Structural Adjustment Program of the 1990s, which have translated into widespread catastrophes among the local people.

Zimbabwe grapples with poor agricultural and mining productivity due to, among other causes, lack of adequate capital investments, poor knowledge and skills, climate change such as erratic weather patterns leading to extended periods of drought. This means Zimbabwe, once the bread basket of Africa, remains a largely food insecure country. In addition, because agriculture and mining are the backbone of the country’s economy, poor performance in these sectors mean that manufacturing and processing industries have been severely affected too. Many companies have either closed down or downsized, thus contributing to high unemployment which has culminated in widespread starvation especially among low- and middle-income families who can no longer afford a decent livelihood of adequate food, safe shelter and access to basic social services like health and education.

Indeed these sectors remain the most affected. Poor working conditions have led to massive brain-drain as doctors, nurses and teachers seek greener pastures in more developed countries. Little was achieved in addressing the health- and human development-related MDGs and implementation of the SDGs remains uncertain. Significant strides have been made in managing HIV and AIDS as noted by a decrease in prevalence from about 18% in 2008 to 13.4% in 2016. However, the country is still reeling from the massive impact caused by the pandemic between 2000 and 2010 which led to high rates of morbidity and mortality among the young and adults alike. By 2010, there was an estimated 1.6 million children made vulnerable by HIV and AIDS, with approximately 1 million having lost either one or both parents and 50,000 living in child-headed households.

Zimbabwe’s socio-economic problems cannot be separated from its largely volatile political system. There is widespread corruption and tribalism in both public and private socio-economic affairs. The current government has politicised virtually all public institutions and those who do not “vibe” with this dispensation are excluded from mainstream benefits. Worse, such people are often subjected to political intimidation and violence, and the weak and biased legal, justice and welfare systems cannot do anything to intervene. Additionally, those with little bargaining power, primarily those from low-income families, are excluded from the mainstream economic and social life. For instance, they cannot access quality basic healthcare and education services because either they cannot afford them or they do not exist in their communities. With such a status quo, such vices as abuse, violence and exploitation (in all their forms) are rampant, and most victims lack access to both legal and social justice.

Overall, Zimbabwe has parallels with the rest of SSA in that it is also affected by the dynamics of global geo-politics and economics. Underdevelopment caused by the ill-effects of colonialism and slavery haunts the country to this day. Global economic downturns tend to affect its largely primary-based economy. For instance, the 2007 global financial crisis fueled strong macroeconomic downturns for the country through decline in commodity prices, contraction in global trade and collapse in primary commodity exports. Also, the tightened external financing environment means that many noble infrastructural, agricultural and mining development and social services projects which can positively impact the lives of people can never materialize.

 

What do you plan to do next after completing the post-graduate diploma in Human Rights? Are you interested in studying for the LLM and following from this, a legal career?

The post-graduate diploma in laws is an excellent study experience as it is gradually initiating and opening my eyes to a new worldview of social and legal justice that I had never experienced before. However, with the complexity with which my career keeps growing every day, a year or two from today, and with only the post-graduate diploma, I will be redundant. Thus, given the opportunity, I am fully committed to work towards the LLM qualification as it will provide me with further depth and grounding in terms of legal and human rights theory and practice.

While studying, I want to continue practising as a developmental social worker and use the legal knowledge and skills I will be gaining to champion children’s rights and child protection issues, particularly among orphaned and vulnerable children. To me, that is my definition of a “legal career”: developmental social work with a legal flavour. Undoubtedly, successful completion of the LLM program will be a key hallmark of my career as it will catapult me to another level of operation and responsibility where I can make even more substantial contributions to humanity’s well-being. Working with children has always been my passion. Through the small but unique contributions I make, I always see myself as a key contributor to my country’s social development progress.

After the LLM, I would like to proceed to doctorate studies in a social development field. I would also want to do lectureship on guest or part-time basis. Typically, I want to teach classes that focus on child rights, human rights and the social and economic development contexts. I see this as strategic because, ultimately, as a practitioner, educator and researcher, I can have a far bigger impact on the development issues I care about most than I can solely through my own efforts. Meanwhile, as evidenced by my two peer-reviewed published papers on child sexual abuse, child marriage and the justice system in Zimbabwe, I have begun using my collated social work, development and legal knowledge and experience to contribute to evidence-based knowledge and practice on human rights issues affecting children. Hopefully, policymakers, child rights practitioners and students can draw inspiration from these articles to achieve better results in their own spheres of operation. Ultimately, if I can help reduce those problems I care about in some small way, then my lifetime will have been well-spent.