Thomson Chengeta

When the going gets tough, TuksLaw alumnus Thompson Chengeta gets going – against all odds

TuksLaw alumnus Thompson Chengeta was born in Shurugwi, a small town in Zimbabwe. After the death of his father, Thompson had little hope for his future. ‘I remember myself as a little boy wondering how it felt to be able to ask your parents to do something for you. That privilege of saying ‘Father I need this and that’. I wondered how it felt to be a kid who plays with others in the playground. I missed out on that as most of the time I had to work to raise school fees and food. I did not see any hope, but God did.’.

Against all odds, and instead of using his fate and misfortune as a hindrance to achieving success, and determined to change his status from victim to victor, Thompson sailed through rural schools, night schools and found his way into law school where he worked hard. Apart from shining as a mooter in many moot courts competitions including the Washington Jessup International Law (USA) and the African Human Rights Moot Court Competition, Thompson graduated as one of the top students in his class at Midlands State University in Zimbabwe. Hereafter he enrolled at the University of Pretoria for a Master’s degree in Human Rights and Democratization in Africa, presented by the Centre for Human Rights, and graduated with a distinction and second highest marks in a class of 31 students from across Africa.

‘Joining UP opened various opportunities for me. To start with, while studying towards my LLM degree and with the financial assistance of the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria, I was able to serve my second semester internship at the International Criminal Court in The Netherlands. After I completed my LLM degree I obtained a research position to Christof Heyns, Professor of Human Rights Law, in his capacity as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions. Prof Heyns, also co-director of the Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria, supervised my LLD thesis titled 'The challenges of increased autonomy in weapon systems: In search of an appropriate legal solution. Under his wings I have gained vast knowledge in the field of autonomous weapon systems and the law. Although this is a current and debated topic in the United Nations there are not so may scholars on the African continent who deal with this subject.’

The University of Pretoria’s Faculty of Law is proud to announce that Thompson is currently studying at Harvard Law School towards a master’s degree focusing on corporate law, business law and human rights. His current research focusses on the presence of Chinese corporations in Southern Africa, and the potential human rights implications and impact. He is also involved as an internal reviewer of the Harvard International Law Journal. He has also gained some working experience in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva. In addition, he has also had opportunities to attend high level United Nations meetings in Florence, Italy, Geneva, Switzerland and at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. ‘All of these are a result of God’s grace upon my life; the kindness He bestows in all the people who have helped me work towards my goals. Of course, you need to have an ambition, hard work, tenacity, and dedication – keeping an eye on the goal. Special mention goes to the University of Pretoria and the financial assistance rendered to me.’ declares Thompson in a recent letter to the Faculty.

With the experience gained whilst at UP Thompson has been enabled to deliver lectures on courses organised by organisations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). As a former lecturer of law at Midlands State University, he attended the Advanced Course on International Humanitarian Law for Academic Professors organised by the ICRC in Geneva, Switzerland. He lists international humanitarian law as one of his fields of interest and expertise. Since 2012, he has been responsible for drafting the hypothetical case of the Nelson Mandela World Human Rights Moot Court Competition that is organised by the Centre for Human Rights and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. ‘Above all, while at UP and under the supervision of Prof Heyns, I managed to build an impressive CV that got me into Harvard Law School. I am forever indebted to the University of Pretoria for the opportunities presented to me and their financial support.’

Outside the law books, Thompson is a songwriter and singer. He has just finished working on a single that features South African Idols runner up Lize Mynhardt and Justin Ward, an American saxophonist who has worked with international stars like Tyrese Gibson. In one of Thompson’s songs, three lines of the lyrics depicts his life:

'I heard the owls singing my name,

I heard shovels digging my grave,

I was afraid, then I chose to be brave!'