By Sylvia Mugwagwa
A team of four final-year Rhodes University Faculty of Law students boarded a 13-hour flight to Geneva, Switzerland, to participate in the prestigious John H Jackson International Trade Law Moot Court Competition.
The dynamic team consisted of two Zimbabwean students, Amanda Magodo and Tapiwa Madzima, and two South African students, Sovash Chetty and Franciscus Crouse. Their coach, Advocate Shuaib Rahim, accompanied them.
The annual competition, which is organised and funded by the European Law Students' Association (ELSA), simulates a dispute under the rules of the World Trade Organisation dispute settlement system, involving exchanges of written submissions and adversarial hearings before panellists on international trade law issues. The four team members qualified to compete in Geneva after a rigorous internal selection process. They competed in the All-Africa round hosted in Accra, Ghana, where they placed in the top four in Africa.
As a result, Rhodes University was the only South African University to make it to the final rounds in Geneva.
After their sterling performance in Accra, the Rhodes University team was amongst the top 24 teams from the regional rounds to qualify for the Final Oral Round that the World Trade Organisation and the Geneva Graduate Institute co-hosted. The Rhodes University team thus competed against the top students from the European (Salzburg and Brno) rounds, the All-Americas (Puerto Vallarta) rounds, the South and West Asia (New Delhi) rounds, the East Asia and Oceania (Singapore) rounds and the Africa (Accra) rounds.
In speaking about the students' performance at the competition, Adv Rahim expressed how well the four participants could compete at the highest level on the global stage.
"They did exceptionally well in representing Rhodes University, as well as Africa as a whole, as the team not only comprised of South African students but Zimbabwean students as well," he reflected.
Adv Rahim also expressed how important Rhodes University's participation in the competition is as it speaks to the University's commitment, as expressed in its Institutional Development Plan (2023-2028), to realise the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2063 and that participating in this project is a true expression of the University's stated objective to have both a local and global impact.
"The competition provides Rhodes University students with the significant opportunity to meet with other students on the continent who have a shared commitment to realising the goals of the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement," Adv Rahim asserted. "In addition, the competition helps in the advancement of our students' career aspirations in the international trade law sector. The competition is at the first instance, aimed at engaging law students in competing and disputing relevant trade law problems but also, at the second instance, serves as a recruitment exercise for international trade law employers."
The moot competition is a fantastic networking opportunity. Participants who qualify for the Geneva rounds are invited to meet with potential employers and are exposed to international internships and scholarships at the annual sponsors' reception. This year, in particular, the students were fortunate enough to meet with Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Director General of the World Trade Organization.
When asked about his experience in Geneva, one of the four final-year law student participants and the captain of the Rhodes University team, expressed how invaluable the experience was for his teammates and himself.
"Aside from getting the opportunity to compete at the Geneva Graduate Institute and meeting other law students from across the world, the highlight of the whole experience was meeting and networking with various influential lawyers and individuals in the international trade law sector. The field, in general, is very niche and very expert based, so getting to meet with and hear from experts who have participated in and represented nations in real international trade law dispute settlements was a tremendous opportunity for someone like myself who is looking to pursue a career in trade law," said Madzima.
While in Geneva, Adv Rahim also met with colleagues at the International Trade Centre (ITC) and the Global Trade Help Desk designers, who will soon launch a free online platform designed in partnership with the African Union to facilitate Intra-Africa Trade.
Adv Rahim and members of the team also expressed and extended their gratitude to Rhodes University and ELSA Alumni, Kimberly Nyajeka and Hayley Warring, now working at Webber Wentzel in Johannesburg, who mentored the team by providing constructive insights and support during two virtual coaching sessions in preparation for Geneva.
"I would also like to thank the Rhodes University Faculty of Law and the International Office for their continued and invaluable support for this project," Adv Rahim expressed, "Rhodes University Alumni who have participated in this competition have worked at the Legal Affairs Division of the World Trade Organisation in Geneva, and two currently work at Webber Wentzel in Johannesburg in their Trade and Investment Division."