When a paralegal functions as a bridge to fairness


Dafrosa Mwandika is seen tending to her two heads of cattle that she was awarded as part of the settlement following the breakdown of her marriage in Maleza, Sumbawanga Rural.

Paralegals are often very unremarkable individuals, but they usually stand out by their commitment to help redraw the life maps of thousands of ordinary citizens.

From employees battling against ill treatment at the hands of their employers to children being denied their inherent rights to women wrestling for their rights in abusive households, paralegals can be found navigating these treacherous circumstances with admirable will.

We visited the village of Maleza, a very long distance south of Sumbawanga in the Lake Rukwa basin, where a local paralegal, Kevin Simfukwe, had succeeded in facilitating an amicable end to a conflict that emanated from a divorce.

“The fundamental work was to interpret the law in such a way that, each party felt they were treated fairly, and thus had an equal share in the division of property,” he told us.

Dafrosa Mwandika came to the paralegal unit’s office with her divorce papers, which bore instructions to the village council regarding the division of property between her and her ex-husband, which included a house, land and cattle.

She hadn’t handed the papers to the council for fear of repercussions from him, and by the time she had contacted Simfukwe, her ex-husband had already sold off some of the property set for the land on which he had already agreed a price with a prospective buyer.

“When I met him and inquired about the land and why he had intended to sell it without consulting Dafrosa, he told me, it was his personal property, however, she informed me when I turned to her that, they had acquired it while married,” explained Simfukwe.

He immediately sat with the couple and interpreted the Marriage Act, 1971, pointing out to Dafrosa’s husband that, in the face of the law, he had erred, and for that matter, his ex-wife had a claim in all property accumulated in wedlock.

Furthermore, Simfukwe asked the prospective buyer to put a hold on making any payment in regard to the land, until such a time that, the former husband and wife reached an agreement on how to proceed with the division of property.

“I provided extensive legal education on matrimonial termination and the splitting of wedlock gains to a point, where her husband confessed that, he shouldn’t have disposed of the property single-handedly,” Simfukwe told us.

Dafrosa confirmed these facts and added, “When he was asked, why he was keen to also sell the land, he said he was in financial difficulty and had no other means out of it, except to sell the land. I told the paralegal that, I was willing to let it be sold, but that, we should share the revenue equally.  So, he guided us through the process, and we agreed that, we would buy four heads of cattle with the money and each of us would keep two.”

Simfukwe’s role didn’t end there, he advised Dafrosa to think carefully about what she needed to do with her cattle, and she told him that, she desired to invest her time and whatever resources she could master in rice farming. To accomplish this, she said, she opted to sell one of her two heads of cattle and use the money to hire land and farm.

“There was absolute delight in seeing a couple that was at bitter odds being able to sit down together having understood the law and dividing their matrimonial property equally. They shook hands happily and that spelled a positive end to what could have been an acrimonious experience particularly for Dafrosa,” he said.

“There are women around here, who undergo similar circumstances and my message to any of them is that, our services are available free of charge, and there’s no need for them to suffer in isolation,” Simfukwe concludes.

Dafrosa’s case provides a snapshot of the successful application of the skills, that paralegals possess and the difference they help make in people’s lives, especially enabling them to sever the chains of poverty.

As an integral component of LSF’s Access to Justice Program, they form the plinths that hold together the pillars of justice in countless rural communities, where extremely few people know the law and their rights.

Through their daily commitment to the course of fairness women, men and children across the country are benefitting from legal awareness in ways never seen before, and Dafrosa is one certain proof of this fact.

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