Two law students from Stellenbosch University (SU) were recently named runners-up in the Christof Heyns African Human Rights Moot Court competition, placing their law faculty among the top four in Africa.
Megan Roos, an LLB student who is currently completing the last semester of her studies in Finland, and Shaniaé Maharaj, in her penultimate year of BAccLLB studies, are overwhelmed by their achievement. Not only did they reach the finals, which is an achievement in itself, but they also secured their position as one of the top two English-speaking law student teams in Africa.
Combined teams comprising English-speaking and French or Portuguese-speaking pairs competed in the final round. The SU team share their runners-up position with a Portuguese-speaking pair from the Universidade Eduardo Mondlane in Mozambique. The combined team of Kenyatta University's School of Law in Kenya and the Félix Houphouët-Boigny University in the Ivory Coast finished first.
The winners and runners-up were initially part of 13 teams (eight English, four French and one Portuguese) in the quarterfinal of the annual competition, which is organised by the University of Pretoria's Centre for Human Rights and was hosted by SU this year. All competing students simulated an actual court scenario by arguing a hypothetical human rights case in front of a bench of judges and prominent jurists, who interrogated contestants' arguments.
Taking part in the competition was a rewarding, humbling and nerve-racking experience, especially when they made the finals, Roos and Maharaj agree. “We felt rewarded for our efforts, humbled by the privilege to be part of the acclaimed competition, and nerve-racked to compete against highly talented opponents in front of a bench of renowned judges," they explain. “In every round, we learned so much from the judges' questions, and some opponents were the best orators I have ever seen," adds Maharaj. “If we hadn't internalised the feedback from the judges and our coach in every round, we would not have made it to the finals."
According to Roos, they worked hard preparing since March, when the preliminary rounds started. “A lot of time and dedication went into preparing for the moot court, during which our arguments and our teamwork were strengthened," she says. Overcoming language barriers was a huge challenge. As they were paired with a Portuguese-speaking team, they had to work closely together to formulate their arguments for the finals. Although interpreters Addie Morgado, Roberta Fox and Leo Gouveia translated their dialogues, misunderstandings and confusion inevitably occurred. “At times, it felt as if we were never going to be on the same page. It was most certainly an experience I will never forget!" says Roos.
Maharaj too found working across language barriers challenging. In fact, in the finals, this resulted in them spending five hours disagreeing before they finally came to a resolution. “During the day, I didn't know whether we would be able to finish our preparation in time, but luckily we did," she says. “It has taught me the importance of listening with the sole purpose of listening, not responding. More importantly, I was sensitised to different perspectives on gender-based violence, child marriage, gender identity and sexual orientation, and that there was more than one way of protecting people. This was so valuable and opened my mind to ideas I hadn't considered before," Maharaj continues.
Congratulating the Matie team shortly after the competition, Prof Nicola Smit, dean of SU's Faculty of Law, said: “The Faculty is exceedingly proud of Roos and Maharaj's performance throughout the competition, and for advancing to the final round. Both students committed significant time and hard work to their participation. Such work ethic and intellectual talent promise great things for Roos and Maharaj when they will soon start their professional careers. The fact that we had an SU team in the final of this competition in our Faculty's centenary and hosted in Stellenbosch may justly be considered a historic achievement."
The SU team coach, Claire Rankin, a final-year postgraduate LLB student, also applauds the two students for surviving a very difficult final round against strong opponents and a “gruelling bench of judges". “They performed remarkably and can be proud of their achievement," Rankin says.
Maharaj is considering pursuing an LLM degree once she has completed her current programme and hopes to be an advocate one day. Roos, in turn, will start her articles at Cape Town law firm ENS Africa next year, also well on her way to realising her dreams of becoming an advocate.