Meet The Team Representing Africa At The 2020 Manfred Lachs Space Law Moot World Finals

Simon Motshweni, Nicholas du Toit and Kgomela Letsoalo (L-R)

Following the announcement of their victory at the African Regional Rounds in the Manfred Lachs Space Law Moot, Space in Africa met with the winning team to discuss their moot journey, their experience specialising in space law and their opinions of the future of the African space industry and its role in continental development. 

This year’s winning team consisted of students from the University of Pretoria: Kgomela Letsoalo and Nicholas du Toit, who were led by their coach and previous moot court participant, Simon Motshweni. 

What inspired you to take part in a space law moot 

K: I wanted to try something new, and space law fascinated me. I had never done a moot before, and I was pleasantly surprised at our success [despite] my lack of experience.

N: I’ve been mooting since the first year, and I try my hand at every moot available. The [Manfred Lachs Space Law Moot] was held in quite high esteem. It was during the first year that Simon won [the World Finals], and we were looking up to him, and I couldn’t pass it up. 

How is space law different or similar to the fields of law that are more common in the legal curriculum 

K: Difference is that Space Law is novel, and there aren’t a lot of legal precedent [or] cases; the cases [used in the contest were] mostly theoretical. It is a new field, and there is not enough jurisprudence, and you are also working off of minimal sources. 

N: I agree with Kgomela; with the similarities, it’s the writing, comprehension, legal writing skills and analysis which are similar to any other law field. As well as some international law aspects, however, there is also so much yet to be explored in the realm of space which is interesting because you are not held to strict precedent. 

What does this win mean for you and Africa?

K: Personally, it is a great moment as it gives me a lot of confidence and inspires me to do more and expose myself. This moment also demonstrates that Africa has a lot of potentials to become a significant player in the space law field, we take the field seriously, and we have that untapped potential and are capable of contributing to it. 

N: Personally, it would be my [proudest] achievement, considering how prestigious the competition is. For UP we have some of the best mooters in the whole world and it gives me great joy to bring back this kind of esteem to my University and South Africa. I agree with the stigma mentioned by KG, but I believe that our performance in the past shows that there is a lot of value from a theoretical, legal and an African flavour of law in the space community.

S: Personally, it means affirmation, this is a process that we have been through before, and the continuance of being great. We only joined in 2012, and since then we have been able to reach the finals several times, and we have won the final at least once, so we are at a fair play despite our delay in joining the cycle. We are not stagnant. We are here to become one of the pioneering continents, Elon Musk is from South Africa, so space seems to be ingrained in us, with the right resources we can become just as impactful. 

What opportunities are you hoping to derive from the exposure given through the competition?

K: I’ve been interested in international law for a while even before my degree, while I was doing this competition I was interested in space law and I would consider getting involved and maybe also working in the space sector. 

N: I have also developed a keen interest in international law, and it has been interesting to see state relationships in international law play out in the space sector. And it is an open secret that space is the future, and I would hope to be the first non-scientist in space. I love being able to show that South Africa has a lot to contribute. 

S: To be exposed to much more than the basic introduction to space education. To play a more significant part in the IAC and establish international partnerships, collaborations, and even get the opportunity to be exposed to scholarships which may foster for further studies within the field. 

What advice would you give to anyone intending to study or pursue space law, would you say having a particular background gives you an advantage, and if so, what would that be?

K: Being interested is the first step; you won’t put in a lot of effort if you aren’t vested in the topic. You need passion to put the extra mile. Law also involves a lot of reading, and if you are not keen on legal research, you wouldn’t be able to handle the pressure of engaging with new content, cases and articles.

N: An interest in international law facilitates a career in space law, but any investment in law is helpful as it’s a real opportunity to pioneer the law, it is a rare opportunity to develop the law in a meaningful way. Also, anyone who does a moot should be a little bit crazy; it’s a crazy but exciting field. 

What advice would you give to anyone intending to take part in future MLSLMCC?

K: Firstly, it requires dedication. You should also be able to work in a team and appreciate other people’s ideas. Be willing to sacrifice your time to make progress.

N: You should be willing to make sacrifices; everything worth doing is worth a sacrifice, take the opportunity to love it, appreciate it for its learning experiences.

The team interview quickly shifted to the coach, Simon Motshweni, to get his perspective on the competition, having participated in the past.

The competition was conducted a little bit differently this year owing to the ongoing pandemic, what has been your experience so far? 

K: It was a little bit disappointing not to have the competition in person. I was looking forward to a great learning experience as it was my first moot [as a participant]. There are still other opportunities soon to receive that exposure, but overall, it was a new and exciting learning experience.

N: The whole world has had to adapt to this. Everyone has the same shock and confusion; it was a bit disappointing to present the oral round. We are still quite blessed that the competition was adapted and the competition was not cancelled. I commend everyone who was involved with the organisation. 

S: The experience has cultivated a new way of working. Having to do virtual training and the challenges in this age of technology has presented us with difficulties as we have to adapt from the traditional way of doing things – into a completely new way of life, without having had the opportunity to ‘prepare’ for this massive shift in our routine. Nonetheless, we see these challenges as an opportunity to learn and improve on our weaknesses. We are at the rise of the 4IR, and we take it upon ourselves to live up to the standards of modern technology.

Would you consider pursuing a career in space law?

K: Yes, I have been considering it for the past few months. The reading is limited and internet sources are few, however, if I could learn more, then I would pursue a career earnestly.

N: The competition exposed me to a legal community that I never even knew existed. The scholars apply themselves, and I wouldn’t mind drafting a few arguments in zero gravity. 

What inspired you to take part in a space law moot and to further coach this year’s team?

S: I have always been a fan of international law in general. When I came to learn about the lex specialis of space law, I was intrigued to find out what exactly the laws regulating Space are. This interest motivated me to participate in the Manfred Lachs Moot in 2018. Where after I developed a sense of love [for] the field, I have decided to coach the Moot this year.

How was the coaching journey having participated in the past, yourself?

S: It was equally smooth and challenging. Smooth because you know what’s expected of participants, so it’s easier to tell them what’s needed. But at the same time, you need to remember you are not too involved as you are now the instructor. You are the resource you are no longer the one looking for information, and that was a massive shift. This year was wholly based on the memorials; it is overwhelming. But I think at the end of the day it is just about adapting to the transition. It’s not about you, it’s about preparing another, and that’s a big responsibility. 

You are still a student with many responsibilities, 

S: It is challenging. The easiest way to make things work is to work on schedules. Make a clear timeline of whatever you intend to address. You clear your schedule, and you hope for the best. These things are often out of your control, and now you have to make it work, early mornings, late nights, and little sleep. Make time for it.

The conversation then shifted to the team’s opinion on the use of space technology to better the lives of African citizens. 

How do you think space science and technology can help us fight against the Covid-19 pandemic

K: I think we can use satellite imagery to help identify places where the virus is prevalent as to impose specific restrictions in those particular areas. Satellite imagery can also be used to monitor homes where the virus would be likely to emerge to help prevent its spread.

N: I believe that satellites are the most valuable tool that we could use from space in the ongoing battle against Covid-19.  The virus is spread through close human contact, hence the need for social distancing. Satellite imaging could prove to be incredibly useful when it comes to monitoring population density and human traffic in hotspot areas. It is, unfortunately, becoming likely that intermittent lockdowns will become the norm of the near future, and satellite imaging would be an influential asset in informing essential decisions. 

What have you encountered as the most interesting space solution to a global challenge?

K: The most interesting solution has undoubtedly been the use of remote sensing via satellites in disaster management to help forecast, predict, and provide warnings to help evacuate people before a national disaster. Remote sensing can also be used following a natural disaster to help identify affected places and to support disaster management services to provide a more efficient response to concerned people.

N: From a space law perspective, I admire the International Space Station’s Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) as both a pioneering legal instrument and a solution to a complicated matrix of theoretical legal problems. The ISS is humanity’s most ambitious foray into the final frontier and represents the interests of some of the world’s most potent scientific entities. Remarkably, the IGA represents a consensus on the laws to govern arguably the most ambitious project in human history. The IGA is the most exciting solution as the problem- the need for laws- is an indisputably social problem and is one which will continue to follow us into the great unknown. 

S: The technology used in the creation of space equipment can be used in facilitating better health care support in the fight against COVID-19. For example, Dr Marie Korsaga has made a notable example in the context of Africa, where South Africa is currently engaged in a project that will lead to the manufacturing of ventilators with some ‘space technology’. This project is based on experience from the development and construction of the 64-dish MeerKAT radio telescope. The purpose of these ventilators is to help [hospitalised] patients receive oxygen by pumping air into their lungs with no need for electricity. Dr Korsaga has also highlighted that this will help to treat the majority of hospitalised stricken cases in South Africa and even across the sub-Saharan Africa region.

How do you think we can involve more youth in the area of space education?

K: We can start by providing the youth with access to information about space and all the opportunities it offers. There is a lack of knowledge, and I believe that this contributes to the lack of youth participation in the area of space. The country’s science and technology departments and space agencies can help develop programmes such as camps and school and university information sessions that aim to ignite a passion for space in the youth.

N: I believe that the youth will not need much convincing to develop an interest in space law. Outer space and all its mysteries have inspired generations of humankind’s most celebrated fiction and as technology progresses so too does our curiosity. While the bulk of the interest in space might be placed on the sciences, the law will in time come to the forefront of most space discussions as our ability to expand into the cosmos matures. Initiatives like the Manfred Lachs Moot are vital in nurturing this relatively nascent field of law. Furthermore, space law’s close correlation with international law strongly appeals to young lawyer’s whose interests transcend national borders. 

S: Creation of platforms (conferences) as well as the establishment of on-campus based societies. 

To attract students of all sorts (in Science, Humanities and even law) on-campus societies must be established in different institutions of higher education to recruit, maintain and grow membership in the area of space education. 

To attract young professionals, conferences must be established – these must target people working in departments such as mining, energy and trade. [It should also consider] law firms, an innovation hub or a government department; whatever the case may be – this will grow participation in the area of space education. 

The interview closed with one final question for the coach on the role and prospects of an African Space Strategy.

Do you suppose the African Space Policy & Strategy is sufficient to drive Africa’s future space endeavours?

Yes. The African Space Policy & Strategy fosters cooperation amongst states. The new state cooperation on space activities has allowed developing space-faring countries from the continent to reap social and economic benefits from space applications. The Strategy provides for the strengthening of research, development and innovation. Moreover, the strategy is aligned with Africa’s aspirations. It is premised upon the principles of fostering international cooperation within Africa and with the rest of the world as a means of realising the full value proposition of the space sector. Such international collaboration will root the growth of Space Development. Global partnerships with leading spacefaring states such as Germany, China, the US and Russia will allow the African States the room for growth, and to reap better social, economic and innovation benefits.