She holds an old photograph as she recounts the genesis of her remarkable journey in the legal field.
In that picture is an unassuming beauty whose personality radiates through her modest hairdo and make-up.
The young woman appears to be staring into the future.
“When I went to the University of Rhodesia to do my law degree, the majority of students were white,” Deputy Chief Justice Elizabeth Gwaunza tells The Sunday Mail at her office in Harare on Good Friday while looking at an image of her younger self.
“There were about seven black students in my class, and three of them were women. One of the women fell by the wayside, leaving Lucky Mupanemunda and I, and the two of us went on to become the first black female graduates from the University of Rhodesia.”
Deputy Chief Justice Gwaunza dreamt of excelling and is now “living that dream”.
She has distinguished herself both as a lawyer and justice, with her work featuring in legal records.
Her career began around the time that picture was taken at the University of Rhodesia in 1974, and has flourished with her appointment as Deputy Chief Justice.
She was sworn in by President Emmerson Mnangagwa last Wednesday, becoming the first woman to hold that post in Zimbabwe.
“I cannot say I am ‘The Iron Lady’, but I know that I am firm because I believe in justice. Justice must always prevail. I believe in achieving whatever you want to achieve through honest work,” she says.
“I always say no to corruption. Corruption takes many forms, but I would rather slog for achievement. I believe in transparency.”
She was the first legal director in the then Ministry of Community Development and Women Affairs.
After her stint in Government, she became leader of the Women and Law in Southern Africa Research Project, and served on the boards of Musasa Project, the Women’s Leadership and Governance Institute and the Wills and Inheritance Project.
DCJ Gwaunza was a founding member of the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association and Zimbabwe Association of Women Judges, and a member of the International Association of Women Judges.
“I am a feminist at heart. I have compassion for the less-privileged, mostly the women and children, because in my career as a women’s rights activist, I discovered that women’s and child rights are linked. If a woman’s rights are affected, the child’s rights are also affected.
“When I had my first job, women were earning less than men for doing the same job. They were paying income tax; having to resign when you had a baby because there were no maternity leave regulations for women. I had to resign from work and reapply when I had my first two children.”
In 1992, she turned down an offer to become a judge so that she could advance the women’s rights lobby. She only accepted to ascend to the bench six years later.
“I didn’t accept because I didn’t think I was ready at the time. A couple of years later, I was approached again, but declined as I still felt I had a lot to contribute to women’s rights issues.”
She was elevated to the Supreme Court in 2002, and several of her judgments were published.
In 2008, DCJ Gwaunza scored another first when she served as a judge on the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia at The Hague.
“Life is not easy for women, so they must be strong and focused, and fight all the time for what they believe in and not allow themselves to be taken advantage of.
“Women should get an education. You educate a woman, you educate the world. This is not an idle comment because women are educators themselves; right from the beginning.”
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