Lawyer returned to cambridge university

Gates Cambridge Scholar Rumbidzai Dube has long held a passion for international relations and humanitarian issues. After working for ten years as a human rights lawyer, she has returned to academic study, convinced that we need to understand more about the context of the challenges Africa in particular faces.
I grew up in Zimbabwe and come from a line of very strong women. Both my maternal and paternal grandmothers were go-getters. They were hard-working women and also very independent, outspoken and assertive. I think I got a double dose of those genes from both sides!



My interest in humanitarian issues comes from my mother. She worked on initiatives like community immunisation, prevention of malaria and economic empowerment for women. The initiatives started small but were hugely effective and showed me that little changes over time can have a big impact.

Growing up, my Dad made me listen to the news on the radio every morning. I remember at the beginning I did not like it, but then it became ‘our thing’ – something special between the two of us. He’d ask me what I’d heard and what I thought about current global events. This would signify the birth of my love for politics and international affairs.

As I listened to the stories unfolding, it became imperative for me to understand more about the ways in which nations related to each other, and how international interventions and political decisions in one country could affect another. I wondered what my place would be in the spaces where these conversations were taking place.

Rumbidzai in the gardens at Lucy Cavendish College
Rumbidzai in the gardens at Lucy Cavendish College

Around this time, I learnt about the Legal Age of Majority Act (LAMA). The LAMA, adopted in 1982, gave women in Zimbabwe equal status with men in the text of the law. Before the LAMA women had to have a guardian.

Because of their perpetual minor status before the adoption of the LAMA, women faced great difficulties making legally enforceable decisions without male consent such as entering contracts, opening bank accounts and buying or selling property. Women could also not inherit their parents’ estate, were not recognised as their children’s legal guardian, and could not administer deceased estates.

The LAMA was a paradigm shifting law that not only changed women’s legal status but gave them grounds for exercising full citizenship rights. The law went a long way in terms of opening up spaces for women, particularly where negative attitudes were entrenched.

Discovering the impact of the LAMA revealed to me the transformative power of the law. It was incredible to see how a change in the words contained within a legal text had a knock-on effect – in this case potentially giving 52% of the nation the opportunity to live their lives with dignity.

I realised that the law could be a starting point for challenging injustice and that I had a role to play. I studied law at the University of Zimbabwe and the University of Pretoria and specialised in human rights and international law.

Since then I’ve worked on several different projects across the African continent, including reducing politically motivated violence against women, promoting women’s rights and law reform, improving children’s access to justice and redressing human rights violations through litigation.

My experiences made me realise that there was a need to deconstruct the context in which Africa’s challenges persist. It was essential to investigate what external and historical, as well as internal and current factors were at play. I decided to return to university, initially for a one year MPhil in African Studies under a Chevening-Cambridge Scholarship, and thereafter applied to study for a PhD with the Department of Politics and International Studies, under a Gates Cambridge Scholarship.

My PhD’s focus is on the African Union, a pan-African organisation that strives for a peaceful, prosperous and integrated Africa. I’m exploring how the African Union navigates Africa’s positioning within a hierarchical global order. I’m also researching how historical trajectories of international law have shaped, and continue to shape, contemporary African politics with respect to Africa’s borders, international criminal justice and Africa’s pursuit of economic development.

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