Mary Jiyani has won two scholarships, the Mandela Rhodes Scholarship and the Rhodes Oxford Scholarship. She is also a final year law student at the University of Cape Town (UCT). CHIKONDI KASAMBARA spoke to her.
Give us your brief background?
I am Mary Jiyani born on November 1993 in a family of three. I am a final year law student at University of Capetown-UCT where I am expected to graduate in June 2016. I was born to and raised by strict parents, especially my mother, whose greatest concern was to shape my future. As a child, I was playful but very curious. I went to St Patricks Primary School and at the age of 10, Kamuzu Academy. So you see I have spent a good number of years at a boarding school. My father owns OK Trading in Limbe while my Mother works for NBS Bank.
Who inspired you to follow a career in the legal world?
I have since a tender age wanted to be a lawyer and my mother has always been my inspiration because she encourages me to face challenges head on. I decided to take law when I was doing my A level at Kamuzu Academy. At this level, there were a number of choices, but I settled for law. My mother made all necessary arrangements that saw me do voluntary work at Legal Aid during my holidays at Kamuzu Academy. After graduating at Kamuzu Academy, I applied at University of Cape Town for a bachelor of law course and out of the 10 students from different African countries they picked, I was the only one from Malawi.
What has life been like at University of Cape Town.
I have been busy throughout my academic life at UCT and have worked extremely hard utilising every possible chance to prove my capabilities. I was involved with the Legal Welfare Community organisation where as students we went out to townships teaching people about their legal rights, voting processes and how Parliament works among others. I was also a vice-president of Malawi Students’ Society when I was in second year. So, it has really been years of hard work and achievements plus awards.
Talking of awards, tell us more about the recent Rhodes scholarship to Oxford you were awarded.
You may wish to know that I got two scholarships in a space of two days, the Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford award and the Mandela Rhodes Scholarship award. Mid this year, I decided to do a masters degree. UCT only offers masters in private law and human rights while Oxford offers bachelor of civil law. So, I started looking for different scholarship options and applied for both the Rhodes scholarship to Oxford and the Mandela Rhodes scholarship. To qualify for the Mandela Rhodes scholarship, one writes a personal essay about life and what motivates them as well Mandela and Rhodes lives and leadership and is open to a lot of African students. The Rhodes scholarship to Oxford category is open to 10 students; nine from South Africa and the other place is for five African countries. Malawi, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland have to battle for it. Five thousand students applied for the Mandela Rhodes scholarship, 75 were interviewed and 50 students got the awards. I am one of the 50 and got the news two days before my interviews for the Rhodes Oxford scholarship. I went ahead with the interviews for the scholarship to Oxford. We were two candidates from Malawi, two from Botswana, one from Lesotho and one from Swaziland. I went through a 40 minutes interview session in the morning and later in the afternoon got the news that I qualified for the award.
How did you react when you got the news?
I did not believe it. I came out of the interview believing I stood a chance but prepared myself for the worst knowing what life sometimes is. I called my mother immediately and she was equally excited and as usual told me she knew it was bound to happen because she believes in me.
Which of the two scholarships will you take then?
I am still consulting on what to do with the Mandela Rhodes scholarship because it was my second choice. If there is a possibility of starting this February at UCT using that scholarship and record the credits on the transcript, suspend the studies and resume after graduating at Oxford then I may consider doing that. Alternatively, I will not take it up instead I will take up the job I have been offered as a teaching assistant in the private law department at UCT. I without second thought am taking the Rhodes scholarship to Oxford and expected in class in October Next year.
Where do you want to go with your law career?
I will spend five years at Oxford because I am planning to do Bachelor of civil law, Master of Philosophy in law, Doctor of Philosophy in Law and some more research and probably teaching. I someday dream of contributing to any non-profit making organisation that prioritises legal services so as to help those who cannot afford legal services. I have been to Legal Aid and Refugee Rights Unit where I assisted refugees write letters to Home Affairs, heads arguments, statements of claim and other paperwork and it gives me great satisfaction to help those in need.
Are you satisfied with what you have achieved at your age?
I am proud of what I have done but I can always do more. I have received prizes for being the best student in all my A Level courses at Kamuzu Academy. I have been on the dean’s merit list for every year of study at UCT. I have also been awarded the Lonnan scholarship for Criminal Justice and the International Bar Association Bursary at UTC and in addition, I have a distinction average at UCT. My plate may look full but I can still add more success stories to it.
Is there any particular legal practitioner you look up to?
I admire Justice O’regan former South African constitutional court justice. Reading her judgements, they are always engaging, poetic and compassionate. I have time and again quoted her in my essays and there is one particular quote I like from her that reads “Necessary requirement for justice is the belief in the minds of ordinary people that the law can be just”
What do you do during your free time?
I love playing netball a lot. I was captain for the Kamuzu Academy netball team back then and play at UCT for residence team. I do play pool and often go to the gym. I also love reading African literature and my favourite authors are Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie as well as Buchi Emecheta. I enjoy spending time with friends, too.
Do you have any words of inspiration to young girls?
What limits us is often not the world but what we see in ourselves. Girls should never be afraid to go after what they want even when it seems unlikely I am a living example. I applied for the scholarships against a background of no female Malawian ever qualifying for the award and 10 years of no Malawian being awarded the scholarships, but I still made it. I am going to Oxford with news that Bachelor of civil law is challenging that’s according to the General Secretary for the Southern African Scholarships who has a bachelor of civil law himself. According to him, the reading list is too long one does not finish it but I will face the challenge head-on and that’s the fighting spirit every girl must have. Girls must never even let gender be a limitation. n