Justice Anastasia Msosa: The woman who has been it all in the Judiciary

Even if our lives are abundant with wisdom and accomplishments, character and the will to accomplish the tasks at hand are pivotal.

Due diligence to perform with excellence is the life story that retired Chief Justice Anastasia Msosa represents.

Both her personal and intellectual conclusions she has drawn from her work embodies the mindset of the “new black woman”- giving rise to women and girls that they are not the downtrodden.

Born in a rural village in Dedza in 1950 to a veterinarian father, who at the time worked for the government and an illiterate mother, Anastasia—fifth born in a family of seven children— started her education journey at a boarding school at the age of six.

In 1957, a time when most people did not go to school, Anastasia says she and her siblings were fairly educated.

Mutharika being sworn-in yesterday by Chief Justice Msosa (left)

“My father valued education; my mother was uneducated, but she also valued education. With limited resources, they made sure we had all we needed.

I don’t know whether they knew that was the key, but here I am,” she said.

Anastasia completed both primary and secondary education at Likuni Girls and from there; she went to Bunda College of Agriculture.

Having a veterinarian father meant her childhood was spent on the farm. She grew up at Chitedze Research Station, a place her father was transferred to from Dedza.

While at Bunda, Anastasia’s eyes were opened to more chances of joining other professions.  She applied to study law at Chancellor College.

But to go for law, it required either two years of work experience at the college, a degree or that one should be a very good student, ‘not behaviour’, she says with a laugh, but in terms of performance.

She made it into law school and in 1975 at the age of 25, she qualified as a lawyer having been awarded a Bachelors of Law, the beginning of her career in the law field.

Anastasia began work as a state advocate, worked briefly acting as a government lawyer, but acting on behalf of the state in civil and criminal cases.

She then moved to the Department of Legal Aid in 1990 where she was representing individuals who could not afford a lawyer.

She progressed to become senior legal advocate, principle legal advocate and chief legal advocate for 13 years. She became registrar general and administrator and was heading the office up to 1992 for two years, before she became a judge.

This kind of career progression, at a time when there were no female lawyers was no child’s play.

At Bunda College, Anastasia was one of the three girls in a class of 50. Her class in law school had seven students and she was the only girl.

“I was not intimidated,” she firmly states.

Though she went through an all girls secondary school, Bunda gave her the strength to deal with a male dominated environment and the environment at Chancellor College did not dissuade her determination.

“My academic journey has been great,” she adds.

She does not look at any time in her life as a field of pain. She also does not paint it as a struggle, yet, she went across stairs that many men did not and today are, yet, to achieve what she has.

Anastasia, became the first female judge of the High Court and first female Justice of Appeals before she assumed the position of Chief Justice. On how she managed these feats, she takes a moment and says, when she was in the department of Registrar General, she attended a lot of courses which equipped her for the work she carried out.

In 1993, she became chairperson of the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) to 1997. Re-appointed in 2005, she upheld the position for two terms until 2012.

However, 1993 stands as a historical moment. Her reign as first ever MEC chairperson, Anastasia ushered the country into a new era of multiparty democracy.

Bold in her efforts to maintain the rule of law, her strength as Justice and a human being falls in her understanding that her capacity was the starting point for engagement with every Malawian.

Fear did not and does not live in her vocabulary; her cool voice as she narrates the events indicates that she never lets nervousness in.

“I would say that in 1993, most of the people in Malawi were prepared. The body was elected in May 1993 and elections were slated for June 1994.

“We had a lot of work that had to be done in the shortest period of time,” she explains.

On the challenges she encountered, she hesitates and only states: “I was young and energetic. We had to work really hard, it meant sleepless nights and one of the exercises was to come out, however, in the end.”

She says they had to make sure they fit in everything, had a plan of action, toured the country, demarcating constituencies and plan for the registration exercise.

The former judge can only be described as a leading military historian whose consuming interest was in leading her team.

A lot of cooperation, an understanding of the work and a team of commissioners that was prepared to work was the reason for the success.

“When you have the law, the resources and are equipped, everything is simple. At my age now, it would have been difficult. We were on the road from Blantyre to Chitipa,” she adds The law had been used to make people doubt and fear, but she worked to make people believe and do.

She gives the impression of one who knew what she was talking about, an authority that assuredly derives from the fact that she had done her research and it only mattered to her to get the elections right.

But was her journey really that rosy?

Anastasia, who got married to Anderson Msosa—an accountant- says none of her seven children followed her path.

One who remotely studied a related course—a  Bachelors of Arts in human rights and one a statistician, a medical doctor  and two are into computers.

“They didn’t have the desire, I would think so because they all concentrated in sciences,” she offers a quiet laughter.

“I was rarely home. It was work that kept me away from home, so when I look back, I ask myself how did I manage?”- the only time she appears to have had a frail moment.

God first she says, as she responds to self introspection.

On excelling in her profession, she says: “The problem comes when you start to diversify, forming your own laws.

“Don’t beat the drum. At the end of the day, you think of the people that trust you to do the job and I was given very good and able commissioners.”

The conclusion she offers to an excellent performance in a democratic Malawi that history today records.

An account from former president Joyce who came into power in 2012 and appointed Anastasia Chief Justice following the resignation of Chief Justice Lovemore Munlo.

“Chief Justice Anastasia Msosa is one woman I have watched and followed for a long time and I have always been amazed at how much a woman can achieve in a life time.”

Banda said when she came to power as the first female president in the country, she appointed Msosa as Chief Justice not only because she was a woman, but because she also happened to be the most senior in the system and well qualified.

“When I look back, I believe that it was the will of God that come 2012, Malawi would have, for the first time a female president and a female chief justice,” she said.

Anastasia not only got a nod from Banda, but an undisputed vote of 117 out of 118 parliamentarians where only one had differed; as overseer of the Judiciary.

She was Chief Justice from 2013 to 2015. She retired in 2015 at the age of 65.

Anastasia is one woman who has achieved all the titles one can get in the Judiciary. However, she opted for a quiet life when asked why she has not pursued politics for instance. Her response is:

“I believe that everything has its own time. I have a passion for farming. It’s not a very active one; I have a number of plots and a number of other activities.”

She cites her work at the Malawi Electoral Commission and courts as areas that sometimes require her experiences.

Her analysis of the current landscape of elections is that the playing field has become complex.

She says one has to deal with civil society organisations, non-governmental organisations, but at the end of the day, she says; “you want them to be independent and as an electoral body, an independent referee.”

She observes that respecting the views of other people is what matters; “follow the rules of the game.”

She adds that each election comes with its own challenges.

On the current scenery of law, she says, law, too has evolved as there are many female lawyers and that one can choose to specialise.

Anastasia is a role model and an inspiration not only to female judges and lawyers.

Her name appears on the list of 20 Pioneer achievers in the History of Malawi Volume 2. n

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