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“It’s a holistic approach”

An interview with Namuchana Mushabati

Namuchana Mushabati is a trained lawyer working as a Programs Officer for the Legal, Sexual and Reproductive Rights Project with Women and Law in Southern Africa (WLSA).  Through the Access to Justice program, the Zambia chapter of WLSA provides legal aid services to women and children in the capital city of Lusaka, as well as various rural districts throughout the country.

“A PARALEGAL IS A PERSON who has basic knowledge or understanding of the law and actually provides legal aid and services to victims of gender-based violence or those whose human rights have been deprived.

I can give you an example of a case that a paralegal resolved completely without the involvement of a lawyer.

There was a widow with six children.  After the death of her husband, the widow and her brother-in-law were made was joint administrators of the deceased husband’s estate.

Soon after, the brother-in-law started collecting money from different places without actually informing the widow, and without giving this money to her and the children, who were actually supposed to be the sole beneficiaries of the deceased’s estate.

There are some cases that the paralegals manage to resolve on their own without needing anybody’s help.  They especially do this through mediation.

Our paralegal got wind of this case and she decided to start following up.  She was using her own resources to follow up the case.  She was working with the other paralegals but she in particular was so involved.

She kept in touch with us to tell us what steps she was taking.  So for example, the brother-in-law was taking money that was coming from the deceased husband’s employer – because they used to send money into his account – which the core, or joint, administrators were supposed to be withdrawing for the beneficiaries, meaning the widow and her children.  But the brother in law was picking up this money and not giving it to the widow and her children, the rightful beneficiaries.

So the paralegal managed to go and see the Ministry of Education, and she informed them of the situation and let them know that they had to stop depositing money into the account until the matter was resolved by either the court or the police.

The paralegal eventually assisted the widow to report the matter to the police because now it was a crime: the brother-in-law was picking up money from the bank and checks from the Ministry of Health and he did not at any point give it back to the widow and the children, who should have been the sole beneficiaries.

The brother-in-law was also holding onto the title deeds, and the paralegal actually got wind of that too and demanded that he take back the title deeds to the beneficiaries.

So eventually the paralegal assisted this widow to pick up these title deeds and they resolved with the Ministry of Education that this man should not pick up any money from the Ministry.  And the Ministry started depositing money into the widow’s account because she and the children were supposed to be the sole beneficiaries of the estate.

That’s how this paralegal managed to assist this widow without our intervention.  But throughout the case, throughout the process as she was assisting this client, she was actually informing us of the whole process.

There are other cases that they need to refer to other institutions, especially criminal cases that need to be presided over by the courts.

So there are some cases, like this one, that the paralegals manage to resolve on their own without actually needing anybody’s help.  They especially do this through mediation.

There are other cases that they need to refer to other institutions, especially cases that need to go through the judicial process.

For instance, they refer cases to the police, especially criminal cases that need to be presided over by the courts.  They also work with the social welfare orphans who do not have anywhere to stay, especially in cases where one of the perpetrators is the sole breadwinner in the family and the children now have no one to take care of them.

Paralegals have been trained and they are able to network with other organizations, especially in the judicial sector, and they know exactly where to refer cases.  So it’s actually a holistic approach when you look at the way they work.”

Namuchana Mushabati, as told to Bremen Donovan

Click here to watch other conversations in the African Voices series.

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April 11, 2013 | Bremen Donovan


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