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Message from the Head of Department Jurisprudence

The law deals with people.  On an island in the middle of the ocean, not owned by anyone, without human interaction, there is no law.  Thus the law is related to human conduct and to all sciences dealing with it.

The Department of Jurisprudence strives to be a vibrant centre of analytical, critical and creative thinking about law, including its purpose, sources, history, relation to justice and fairness and role in society.  It teaches subjects that provide background and context to what is sometimes called “hard” law (like contract, criminal law and procedure) taught by other departments.  It recognizes that “lawyers” are not only money making machines or officers that blindly apply rules, but that they have to be critical thinkers with an active conscience and open minds, able to analyse human situations, identify applicable law and use it to the benefit of their clients, the ideals of justice and fairness, our country, our continent and humankind.  There is nothing wrong with a professional person earning enough to support dependents.  Indeed, it is a duty.  But lawyers need to strive for more than money, to be active, socially conscious and highly ethical problem solvers, advisers and leaders, rather than simply to make rich people richer.

Like other departments in the Faculty of Law, this department aims to contribute to the development of South African jurisprudence, legal theory and legal practice through teaching and research. Our core discipline, Jurisprudence, encompasses theory, history, philosophy, ethics and skills.  It urges us to go beyond mere institutional structures, sources and policy to search constantly for more.  Max Weber talked about “modern disenchantment”.  Indeed, many ordinary people who are excluded from power and wealth are disenchanted with legal and other institutions and with democracy itself.  Several commentators have viewed Weber’s description as a call to “re-enchant” and “imagine”. Gilles Delueze (in conversation with Toni Negri) said:  ‘It’s jurisprudence, ultimately that creates law …’

Research lies at the heart of the Department’s activities. Individual members write and publish articles, chapters in books and scholarly monographs. This research should enrich teaching.

We are responsible for foundational undergraduate courses like Jurisprudence 110 and 120, introducing first year students to basic but important questions.  Roman 120 leads students into the origins of the South African common law; and Jurisprudence 310 exposes them to the relationship between law and politics, the social, ethics and more. Students can choose from a number of electives linked to the research areas and experience of teachers and the Department’s general concern with linking theory and ethics to practice and with transformation towards a more just and society.

One LLM/ MPhil programme (Global perspectives on law, justice and development) and three LLM/ MPhil modules (Post-apartheid Jurisprudence, The History and Philosophy of Human Rights and Global Perspectives on Law, Rights and Development) are hosted by the Department. The Research Methodology courses on undergraduate and postgraduate level are all coordinated by the Department.

Members of the Department accept and invite students for postgraduate research on masters and doctoral level in their fields of interest to work under their supervision.

Past and present members of the Department of Jurisprudence have played and are playing significant roles in the Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria, South Africa, Africa and the world.  Professors Paul van Warmelo, Duard Kleyn and Christof Heyns became deans of the Faculty of Law.  The present head of the department was the founding director of the Centre for Human Rights; was intimately involved in the abolition of apartheid and related oppressive laws, as well as the drafting of the Constitution, served as a judge in the High Court and the Constitutional Court (the highest court in the land); has acted as a judge in Lesotho; and is the current Inspecting Judge of Correctional Services; Professor Philip Thomas is highly respected globally as a legal historian.  Professor Frans Viljoen is the director of the Centre for Human Rights and has played a leading role in the promotion of human rights in Africa;   Professor Heyns was the United Nations (UN) special rapporteur on extra-judicial executions and is a member of the UN Human Rights Committee.  Professor Dire Tladi is a member of the UN International Law Commission.  Professor Caroline Nicholson became dean of the Law Faculty of the University of Free State and is now the Registrar of the University of Pretoria.  Professor Anton Kok is the deputy dean of this faculty.  Professor Annelize Nienaber heads the Department of Public Law. Mr Tshepo Madlingozi has published significant research, plays a leading role in civil society organisations and… is the father of the Legal Shebeen on campus. Dr Joel Modiri has been selected as a member of the first group of Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity, a programme that seeks to overcome racism and white supremacy in the United States and South Africa.  The writing and teaching of Professor Karin van Marle, Dr Yvonne Jooste, Dr Isolde de Villiers and Ms Lorette Arendse have made a significant impact on legal research and education in South Africa and elsewhere.  

Well-known South African and international lawyers and academics like Professor Karl Klare, Northeastern University, and Professor MB Ramose, UNISA are honorary and extra-ordinary professors in the Department. 

As a department extensively involved with first year students, it is our objective to make all students joining the Faculty of Law feel at home.  We strive to make the transition from school to university study as smooth as possible and to lay a sound foundation upon which students can build throughout their academic career and thereafter.


Professor Johann van der Westhuizen

Head of the Department of Jurisprudence

Former Justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa


(With thanks to Professor Karin van Marle, previous Head of the Department, for her message on which this one is built).

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Last edited by Elzet HurterEdit