In May 2022, Midlands State University (MSU) emerged as the winner of the 2022 African Regional Rounds of the Manfred Lachs Space Moot Competition. The Manfred Lachs Space Moot competition is an annual space moot competition organised by the International Institute of Space Law (IISL). The team’s Namatai Katsande also clinched the Best Oralist award. MSU will subsequently be representing Africa at the world finals in September, within the margins of the International Astronautical Congress (IAC).
Space in Africa caught up with the team, comprising Team Coach Ntandoenkosi Moyo, Panashe Mujegu, Namatai Katsande, and Eunah Ndou; to discuss their journey to winning the African Regional Rounds, as well as their preparation for the finals.
What piqued your interest in Space and Space Law
Ntandoenkosi: It is not strictly Space Law but Public International Law. It has always been my area of interest. As a result, I came across Space Law while working on my thesis. So, when I took up this moot, it was unplanned, and when I went through it, I noticed it aligned with my interest in Public International Law. As the students can attest, the facts became much clearer and more interesting as we continued to read it. In summary, it was Public International Law, but I discovered Space Law when I began to zero it down.
Panashe: Before the moot competition, I had no knowledge of Space Law. I only recently got interested in Space, and even then, it is not widespread. We only took part in the competition because it was a moot competition. Otherwise, before that, I did not have much knowledge about the discipline.
Namatai: I can relate to Panashe’s sentiments in that the moot competition attracted me to Space Law
Eunah: At first, I had no idea what space law was all about. Those are some of the areas we are never taught at school. However, my desire to participate in every internal moot court competition just drove me to this particular one. Since then, it has been a beautiful ride, and I can safely conclude that space law shall be my area of practice after graduation.
How were your preparations for the African Regional Rounds? Did you face any challenges?
Ntandoenkosi: Well, honestly, I did not do much. The students are just really brilliant. So I was just monitoring them and was like, “Okay, that is what you need to do”. But of course, the pandemic affected everyone, and the internet connection instability that has plagued this meeting is an example of everything that could go wrong with meeting online. During the regionals also, the internet connection kept us in and out of the event, but graciously, the internet was stable at the right moment.
Regarding the preparations, I oversaw the administrative parts, bringing the students to the school, sitting them down, and reviewing their arguments. Nevertheless, they were very easy to work with. Of course, the pandemic was there, but I think we worked very well together.
Panashe: Regarding preparations, we had difficulty determining what was relevant to the case and what was not. The facts were very complex and challenging, partly because we had no prior experience with Space law. Naturally, as we kept reading and researching the facts, the case became clearer to us. Nevertheless, I perceived our primary challenge was regarding resources that were relevant to Space Law with respect to accessible journals and articles that had specific information concerning Space Law.
Namatai: I think our biggest challenge was relating the law to the facts, which is important when you are mooting or in any case generally. Understanding the law’s application to the facts, its impact, and what it intends to achieve is essential. To address this challenge, we leveraged our strength in International Law to understand the legal regime of Space Law. As a result, it became a question of applying the skills we had learned in school to the task. In terms of it being difficult, it was a hefty task, especially drafting memorials and developing arguments. It was something we had not done before.
Eunah: For me, this was one of the most difficult tasks I have ever accomplished. One of the main challenges is the fact that there aren’t really many case law authorities on the interpretation of the outer space treaties, and as a result, we relied more on scholarly articles and authoritative books. However, despite not having many court decisions to guide interpretations of the relevant provisions, our desire to learn made everything easier.
How did the pandemic affect your preparations?
Panashe: We had two preparation stages; the first stage was virtual, and then we had to come together for the second stage. We were blessed that the pandemic had begun slowing down in our year, so we could come together and develop the memorials. We were also able to come together for the competition. Yes, the pandemic affected us in a way. I feel that if we had more time to work on the case together from the outset, we would have done better – which is very rich considering that we won the competition – but I think we would have developed more sound arguments.
Namatai: I would agree with Panashe. Preparing online is not easy because you could be engaged in other tasks. Mooting is not part of our core modules in school, so it is something that we had to make time for. This makes online preparation tasking, but we managed to pull through. We are also grateful for Whatsapp because it helped us keep in touch.
Eunah: The pandemic really made things a bit harder than they already were, given that space law was quite new to all three of us! We had limited time to meet and discuss. As Panashe said, we could have done way better had we had enough time to prepare face-to-face.
How is the team preparing for the finals?
Ntandoenkosi: Speaking about the preparations for the final rounds, sometimes, when something is working, there is really no need to reinvent the wheel. However, that is not to say we should be relaxed and take things for granted. I think if there is one thing we are doing as a team, now we have a better understanding of the case, and we almost know every stone that needs to be turned, even as we go even deeper into research. Of course, we are yet to bring it all together and begin our advocacy practice, but for now, I hope the students are studying. Nevertheless, the students are brilliant, and there is no need to tell them much.
Namatai: While preparing for the regional rounds, we noticed gaps in areas we could plug. Furthermore, the questions we received from judges during the regionals also offer direction regarding how to approach the final rounds. We commenced preparation for the finals as soon as we concluded the regionals. We noted the questions and feedback we got and started reworking. There will be other subsequent stages where our coach will help us with how to speak and how to deal with questions we receive from the judges. We must also incorporate a reading and exploration stage to discover and formulate new arguments.
Panashe: I agree with Namatai. If there’s anything we have learned across the competition, the facts become more apparent as we read them. One of our most excellent strategies is to keep looking at the facts to see what we have missed and add it to the argument.
Eunah: I completely agree with Namatai and Panashe. Proceeding to the world finals now means that, to some extent, we are venturing into something that we have an understanding of. The regionals were an eye-opener in various respects.
Were there any exciting insights you got from going through the facts?
Ntandoenkosi: Yes, definitely. I think we had a lot. Firstly, there is Space Law in general, the substance and the law it entails, and that was very interesting as it was an area that we, as a University and faculty, had not yet looked at – it is not a module that is on offer. As such, reading and finding out what it is was something. And like I said, the more I read it, the more I realised it is just Public International Law with the principles extending to outer space. Secondly, within the moot’s context, I looked at exciting things, making me look forward to the world finals. Right now, we know almost every area of the case, and we absolutely know what we need to hammer on. As a result, it will be an exciting world final. Nonetheless, we are going to keep studying and preparing.
Panashe: I think, for me, just the opportunity to explore that aspect of the law was very eye-opening, and to a point where. I eventually started wondering if it was possible to venture into this area of Law after graduating. And if it is, how exactly would a person from Zimbabwe partake in such a field. Most importantly, I feel, outside the substance of the Law and the mooting experience, what was most striking for me was the field – just knowing that there are treaties that govern what happens in Space.
Coming from a Law student, it is a bit shallow because you expect to assume that there are specific laws for everything. But I think space is just a very foreign concept to me, and just the opportunity to look at it from a legal perspective and see how International Law principles also applied to these areas was very eye-opening for me.
Namatai: As we researched, I noticed an element of practicality in Space Law. Researching on 3D technology, how spacecraft function, how to remove spacecraft from space, the requirements for that, and what is safe was quite eye-opening and interesting as we never considered what was above us. It was also interesting to learn what would happen if a space object caused damage and other practical aspects of space other than the law.
Eunah: From going through the facts, I would say I share Mr Moyo’s sentiments to the effect that space law is just Public International Law extended to cover the outer space area. As a result, having studied Public International Law as a module, it was easy to apply the same principles to space law.
To Namatai, you received the best oralist award. Could you tell me more about it?
Namatai: I was honoured and surprised to receive this award. In this respect, I can only give God the glory, who often gives me witty ideas and ways to phrase submissions as I speak. As a team, we never embark without seeking the help of God first. He is truly the helper of man. Generally, I enjoy sitting down to strategise on litigation and advocacy strategies. We have received the best possible training at Midlands State University with respect to advocacy.
Will there be any final remarks?
Panashe: More than anything, we are grateful for the opportunity. We are grateful to the university and the organisers because it is a new area of knowledge, and most importantly, it is an experience. Likewise, as an all-girls team, it feels great to be able to do it. We are also grateful to the University as they did not try to balance the team in terms of gender disparity as they picked us on our merits and coached as best as possible. We are where we are because the University gave us a chance.
Namatai: We were given a fair chance, and it was lovely to be able to prove ourselves, showing that if we do the work, we will succeed. It is not magic or tricks, as it is merely a matter of how dedicated you are to the cause. We also learned about the importance of teamwork
Eunah: Finally, I would reiterate Mr Moyo’s statement, “The best thing you can do for your teammates is to do your best.” As Namatai said, teamwork is very important because that is where we get to see the flaws in each other and how best we can complement each other.
Faleti Joshua is an avid lover of space in all its incomprehensible nature. He holds both an LL.B and a B.L degree. Joshua is a lover of music and a lawyer in his free time.