Dream big and apply yourself fully

09 December 2019 | Story Penny Haw. Photo Emmah Wabuke. Read time 8 min.
Musa Kika believes in the power of dreaming big and applying oneself fully.
Musa Kika believes in the power of dreaming big and applying oneself fully.

Musa Kika was still at school when he first recognised the impact law can have on human rights. This set him on the path that will shortly culminate with a PhD in Public Law (Constitutional & Administrative Law) from the University of Cape Town (UCT), which he said has largely been navigated by “dreaming big and applying himself fully”.

The youngest of four children and the first in his family to attend university, Musa was raised in Zimbabwe to a Malawian father and Mozambican mother. While at high school in Harare – he currently lives in the city – Musa’s extracurricular activities included involvement with the Human Rights and Child Law Forum clubs. The latter was operated by the non-governmental organisation (NGO) Justice for Children, which is among the organisations that he currently works for. In a sense, he has travelled a full circle.

“All I dreamed of was using the power of the law to help people who cannot help themselves and of helping develop a culture of human rights in Zimbabwe,” he said.

These days – in addition to undertaking general and strategic child protection litigation, and researching, lobbying and advocacy work for Justice for Children – Musa consults in the fields of human rights, rule of law and governance. He was also integral to the production of the 2018 State of Human Rights Report for the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, which is a Zimbabwean coalition of frontline human rights NGOs.


“All I dreamed of was using the power of law to help people who cannot help themselves.”

Musa is, however, not only driven by the urge to abet the vulnerable using the law; he is also motivated to continue learning and evolve in his field.

“I enjoy exploring new ideas and keeping myself up-to-date,” he said.

“My studies have always been directly related to my work, with the one feeding into the other. In addition, I enjoy multitasking. Continuing to study has allowed me to switch from one thing to the other, while staying productive.

“Also, the law is a dynamic field. Every day hundreds of judgments are handed down in different parts of the world. New laws come up. There is no end to learning. In fact, law is a reading and writing profession, and these things will follow us for the rest of our lives. So, one is a student forever.”

Where it all started

Musa’s university studies began with a Bachelor of Laws (summa cum laude) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and a Certificate in Advanced Human Rights from the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria.

A Mandela Rhodes Scholarship brought him to UCT where he planned to register for a master’s degree. However, when his supervisor, Professor Hugh Corder, saw how Musa’s thesis was shaping up, the professor and his colleagues recommended that he apply to the Doctoral Degrees Board to upgrade the degree. The application was granted, which is why he is due to graduate with a PhD.

The incident, says Musa, set the tone for his experience at UCT.

“Beyond the academic work, my experience at UCT was shaped by how my supervisor actively supported and mentored me throughout the process,” he said.

“Professor Corder was, in many ways, the best supervisor a student could ever hope for.”

Musa’s UCT experience included a stint as an assistant researcher at the Democratic Governance and Rights Unit within the Faculty of Law, which exposed him to judicial governance issues across the continent. He also undertook field research in Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, Tanzania and Zimbabwe, and was a clerk for the Chief of Justice and Judges of Appeal at the Supreme Court of Namibia. He also tutored, lectured and invigilated classes at UCT.

In addition, Musa spent a year with 180 other LLM students from 70 different countries at Harvard Law School. He describes his time there as “a full learning experience”, which not only exposed him to how “law and life are done differently elsewhere”, but also challenged him.

“I never worked as hard as I did at Harvard,” he said.

“It taught me just how far the human mind can stretch if one allows it. It was not a comfort zone and I loved that the most. It pushed my boundaries and horizons, and it made me a better lawyer and a better human being. The experience was overwhelming – from the lecture room to what we learnt from each other in the dorms, corridors, sports fields and during other campus activities, to exploring the American society and how Americans live.”


“There is nothing magical about the path I have travelled. It is possible for anyone who dares to dream big and apply themselves fully.”

Determined to “learn and earn” beyond the classroom, Musa also participated in Harvard Advocates for Human Rights activities, was a senior editor for the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, worked as a research assistant to a prominent professor of constitutional law, and was engaged in the Harvard Human Rights Program. Shortly before leaving Harvard, he was awarded a Harvard public service fellowship called the Kaufman Fellowship, which recognises “exceptional promise for a successful public service career”.

Encouraged by the support and goodwill that he has received from others, Musa takes every opportunity to inspire the people he meets.

“For instance, I became friends with one of the security guys in the UCT Law Library,” he said.

“At some point I brought him a T-shirt from Harare similar to one he had seen me wearing and liked. When I met him after I had been to Harvard, he told me that, motivated by me, he was now studying.”

Based on his experience, Musa’s advice to others is pragmatic: “There is nothing magical about the path I have travelled . . . It is possible for anyone who dares to dream big and applies themselves fully. It is a tough world, but the world is willing to listen and to conspire in aid of anyone who shows promise, commitment and the tenacity to achieve their dreams – especially dreams that will help others. Also, read widely and stay abreast of developments all around you.”

Once he has graduated, Musa hopes to turn his thesis into a book. Above all, is set on helping to find solutions to the Zimbabwean crisis.

“Most [of] my work will be Zimbabwe-focused. It surprises many people that I chose to return home, but I feel like my work has the most value here at this point in time. I will play my part through civil society, various citizen platforms and, if need be, through the technocratic spaces of government or any other platform with a meaningful agenda to help find a solution for the Zimbabwean people.”

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December graduation 2019

The University of Cape Town will be celebrating the graduation of 1 960 of its students over six graduation ceremonies on 12, 13 and 23 December, which include the conferral of three honorary doctorates and the presentation of the UCT Book Award and the UCT Creative Works Award. This graduation season, we also bid a fond farewell to our chancellor, Mrs Graça Machel, who has been the titular head of the university for the past 20 years. Her compassionate and dedicated service to the university will be deeply missed.
Farewell Chancellor Graça Machel

Our stories: inspirational graduates

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‘I refused to be called a failure’ Having endured personal setbacks and defied the odds, Furaha Abwe will graduate with his PhD in Architecture and Planning on Thursday, 12 December. 11 Dec 2019
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Burn the boat to win the island Having worked her way through to her doctoral studies, Delta Ndou will soon don the sought-after red robe to receive her PhD in Media Studies at UCT. 10 Dec 2019
Dream big and apply yourself fully Musa Kika arrived at UCT to study for an LLM, but his master’s was upgraded and he will be graduating in December with a PhD. 09 Dec 2019
Graduation speakers