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 modules that provide background and context to what is sometimes called “hard” law (eg law of contract, criminal law and procedural law) taught by other departments. It recognises 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.
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 the foundational first year undergraduate courses Jurisprudence 110 and 120, introducing first year students to basic but important questions. Roman Law 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 (Law and Political Justice) 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 level is 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. Prof van der Westhuizen, the previous head of the department was the founding director of the Centre for Human Rights and served as a judge in the High Court and the Constitutional Court. 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 was the deputy dean of this faculty. Professor Annelize Nienaber heads the Department of Public Law. Prof Tshepo Madlingozi now heads the leading social justice and civil society organisation, the Center for Applied Legal Studies (CALS) at Wits University. Dr Joel Modiri has been selected as an Inaugural Fellow of the Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equality based at Columbia University (USA) and the Africa Oxford Law Fellowship at Oxford University (UK). The writing and teaching of Professor Karin van Marle (now Deputy Dean of Law at the University of the Free State), Dr Yvonne Jooste, Dr Isolde de Villiers and Dr Lorette Arendse have made a significant impact on legal research and education in South Africa and elsewhere.
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.
Acting Head of the Department of Jurisprudence
(With thanks to Professors Karin van Marle and Johann van der Westhuizen, the two previous heads of the department, for their messages on which this one is built).