Three UP Law alumnae win 2021 Yunus Mohamed Public Interest Award for articles on the decolonisation of the curriculum and discrimination on the grounds of poverty

Posted on August 16, 2021

The Faculty of Law (UP Law) at the University of Pretoria (UP) is proud to announce that one of its students’ papers published in its Pretoria Student Law Review’s 2020 Special Edition has won the first prize of the Yunus Mohamed Public Interest Award for Law, Business and Ethics.

The paper titled 'Historically White Universities and the White Gaze: Critical Reflections on the Decolonisation of the LLB Curriculum' was co-authored by Mankhuwe Caroline Letsoalo (UP Law LLB alumna and now an LLM student at the University of Free State) and Zenia Pero (UP Law LLB LLM alumna and now a pupil at the Johannesburg Society of Advocates).  

UP Law alumnae Mankhuwe Caroline Letsoalo (left) and Zenia Pero (right).

The abstract of the article reads ‘The (most recent) call for curriculum decolonisation came at the height of student protests such as #feesmustfall and #afrikaansmustfall. In the University of Pretoria’s Curriculum Transformation Framework document, the University identified four drivers of curriculum transformation, namely, responsiveness to social context; epistemological diversity; renewal of pedagogy and classroom practices; and an institutional culture of openness and critical reflection. The content of these drivers mirror what is needed to engage in decolonisation of curricula.

In the spirit of these protests that led to the conceptualisation of decolonised higher education, the authors of this article critically reflect on the institutional landscape of historically white universities. The authors employ the term ‘white gaze’ to highlight how historically white universities respond to calls for decolonisation, often substituting this call with transformation.

The purpose of this article is to re-contextualise the need for decolonisation at historically white universities.’

On Letsoalo and Pero’s article, Justice Dhaya Pillay, the founder of the Yunus Mohamed Public Interest Award for Law, Business and Ethics commented:

‘Your article contributes to debates about decolonising education following upon the #feesmustfall and #afrikaansmustfall student protests in 2015 and 2016.  Using the University of Pretoria, mainly, you evaluate the institutional landscape of historically white universities. You caution against falling into the trap of “white gaze”, an “ocular metaphor”, for the influence of white academics in the process of decolonisation.’

This topic is very relevant at the University of Pretoria as it relaunched its Curriculum Transformation Drive on 13 May 2021, followed by a number of virtual lecture series.  The aim of the lecture series is to take stock of the University’s position as to what faculties have done and what they are aiming to do to realise the strategic objective of having a transformed curriculum which is inclusive and dynamic in the interest of UP students and the broader society.

UP Law alumna Sohela Surajpal.

Sohela Surajpal, an LLB alumna who is currently a Clerk at the Constitutional Court, won the Award for a peer reviewed article titled: 'Dismantling the Status Quo: Prohibiting Unfair Discrimination on The Grounds of Poverty under Capitalism' published in (2020) 14(2) Pretoria Student Law Review 256.

Justice Dhaya Pillay commented as follows on Sohela’s article:

‘Your article profiles poverty as a ground of discrimination. This development of our jurisprudence is long overdue. You argue that tackling poverty through anti-discrimination law would yield moderate results.  Radical decisions, you say, are needed to stop “an oppressive capitalist order”. This is progressive thinking.’

The Yunus Mahomed Public Interest Award – Law, Business and Ethics is an annual award with a purpose ‘to encourage students to study, practise law and business in a manner that promotes the advancement of the public interest’.

The Award is open to both undergraduate and postgraduate students from four participating universities: University of Cape Town; University of KwaZulu-Natal, University of the Free State and University of Pretoria. There are three categories and prizes to the award: Local Award of a publication in a known peer reviewed journals (R5 000); a local award of a publication in a newspaper or practice journal with national circulation (R3 000); and a national award (overall winner) chosen from the recipients of the local award of peer reviewed journal articles (R10 000). The best articles are selected by a committee of academics from the participating universities and the Founder of the Award, Justice Dhaya Pillay.

Sohela will receive R5 000 and Zenia and Caroline R2 500 respectively.

Nicholas Herd, a UP Law graduate from 2020, won the Yunus Mahomed Public Interest Award last year.

The awards will be handed over during a virtual function to be held on 30 August, the details of which will be made available in due course.

A proud Elsabe Schoeman, Dean of the Faculty of Law, congratulated the UP Law alumna on their exceptional achievements, and said “this great news fits in perfectly with Women's Month as South Africa commemorates Women's Month in August as a tribute to the more than 20 000 women who marched to the Union Buildings on 9 August 1956 in protest against the extension of Pass Laws to women”. 

“Thank you, Caroline, Sohela and Zenia, for making a difference and contributing to society as a whole as stalwart young women in law,” said Prof Schoeman.

- Author Elzet Hurter

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