National Women's Day: Ode to UP Law Professor Trynie Boezaart (Davel): A woman of substance and professor of law for more than forty years and still going strong

Posted on August 08, 2020

On 9 August South Africans celebrate National Women’s Day. It is the day that our country celebrates phenomenal women and their impact on their communities and their country - women who have made a mark in their various communities on a national and often on an international level. This commemoration day poses an opportune time for the Faculty of Law (UP Law) at the University of Pretoria (UP) to celebrate the life and career of Professor Trynie Boezaart, who has served UP Law diligently and loyally for more than forty years. It is evident that her contribution to academia and law and justice over the past four decades plus are immense.

To commemorate Boezaart’s contribution to UP Law, the Centre for Child Law (CCL) and law in general, we have posed a few questions to her.

When and why have you decided to study law, and when did you realise this dream?

I considered a few options during my matric year and if I followed my heart, I would have studied mathematics. I simply loved the subject. But it was the injustice that I witnessed around me that convinced me that I should take responsibility and at least try to do something to change the way people lived. I approached my studies very cautiously and enrolled for a BProc degree. My reasoning at that stage was that an attorney is the first port of call and perhaps best suited to reach out to clients - all those that were denied justice and suffered injustice. I converted the BProc to BA (Law) at the end of my first year because it became clear that an LLB would open more doors.

You graduated with an LLB degree. Top of the class?

I really do not know. I was one of the two students that were awarded the LLB degree cum laude that year.

How many students were in your final-year class? How many men, how many women?

Thirty-six men in total, with only seven women, and it was well published on the campus in the following year that it was a first for the Faculty of Law to deliver so many female LLB graduandi in one year.

Was it almost unheard of for women to study law in those days?

Perhaps not completely 'unheard' of, but most definitely not commonplace for females.

Do you come from a family of lawyers?
No, not at all.

Which law lecturer inspired you during your studies at UP, and why?

There were very few full-time lecturers in those days. In 1976 to 1977 when I did my LLB, most of our lecturers were members of the General Council of the Bar and lectured after-hours on a part-time basis. My most entertaining class was Criminal law with Professor Kobus van Rooyen - so much so that significant others often accompanied students to share the experience because rehashing it could never have been the same. Another lecturer that really captivated me with his sheer brilliance was Judge Dion van Zyl. He taught Roman law on a Saturday morning at 07:00 and he managed to bring the School of Orleans, the Middle Ages and the Latin texts to life - even at that hour and even when the rest of the student body celebrated Rag in the streets outside campus!

You practiced law as a state prosecutor? Why and for how long?

Yes, but for less than a year. Most of us had bursaries and had to work for the state to 'repay' the bursary after completing our LLB degrees. I hated that job, but with the wisdom of hindsight I realise that my sensitivity regarding children in prisons, corporal punishment and the likes stems from the experience that I had there.

What made you decide to join academia? And when?

I wanted to know more and delve deeper and what I saw of practice in the magistrates' courts was less inspiring. I started out as a lecturer in the Department of Private Law at Unisa in 1979.

You served UP Law with great dedication for forty plus years, and are still serving UP Law as an Emeritus Professor. What is your current involvement?

I was invited to lecture in the LLM (Child law) programme in the module PLC 801 during February and March this year. I was nominated as the internal examiner for a LLD thesis and the LLD student that I am supervising, will also submit her thesis towards the end of the year. I completed the manuscript of the seventh edition of the Law of Persons. Further, I am involved in Revision Service 11 of the Commentary on the Children's Act as a co-editor and working on a chapter that should be published in a book on Article 5 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child towards the end of the year.

Please reflect on the achievements of the Centre for Child Law, in particular the first ten years of its existence when you were the Director.

If I reflect on the establishment of the CCL and the first ten years of its existence, gratitude is the overarching impression. The main aim of the CCL was to establish by means of inter-departmental, inter-university and international collaboration a centre of expertise to promote the best interests of children in law and policy. The vision was to create a space and opportunities for dedicated people to make a difference in the lives of children.

We have contributed to developing Child law scientifically as an academic field, and in-depth, ground-breaking research linking local and international networks was published in books, journals, reports and comments on working papers and projects of the South African Law Reform Commission. Many of these publications have been cited by the courts and have prompted law reform. The CCL has also played a significant role in building on the expertise in Child law by developing a cohort of specialised child law lawyers, both in academia and in practice.

The focus of the CCL has over the years shifted in line with the evolving development of child law, our understanding of children’s rights and the dynamics in our society. What remained the same is that by promoting the best interests of children in South Africa the Centre still strives to improve quality of life to free the potential of all children in South Africa.

The launch of the CCL was sponsored by Couzyn, Hertzog and Horak and the same firm is still the sponsor of the prize that goes to the best LLM (Child Law) student at the faculty's annual Recognition of Achievement Function. The Law Society of the Transvaal (as it then was) nominated Annatjie van Rooyen as a member of the Board of the CCL when it was first established (November 1999 De Rebus) and the CCL was very actively involved in many seminars conducted by Legal Education and Development (LEAD) of the Law Society of South Africa.

Name a few of the highlights over the forty years at UP Law, apart from establishing the CCL in 1998, which is your legacy, and remains until today one of UP's flagships.

I was appointed as a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Private Law at UP in the beginning of 1980 and obtained my doctorate degree in 1984. When I was promoted to an Associate Professor in 1985, I was the first female to be appointed in that position in the Faculty of Law at UP.

My monograph was published in 1987 and I was promoted to a full Professor in 1990. In those years UP introduced English as a language of instruction and many of us authored textbooks to be able to provide the exact same text to both our English and Afikaans speaking students. This explained the first edition of the Law of Persons in 1995. In 1997 the child law debate started in the Faculty and the CCL was established in 1998.

I was appointed as the Head of the Department of Private Law in 2007 and also did a stint as an Acting Judge in the North Gauteng High Court in 2008.

Other highlights were the Exceptional Achiever Awards that I received from the Council of UP, the B2 NRF-rating that I currently hold and the fact that the book Child Law in South Africa (published by Juta) reached the final round of the Top 6 in the world of the 2018/19 St Petersburg International Legal Forum Private Law Prize. As the book was my brainchild, I was one of the authors and the editor.

Anything you would like to add/may want people to know?

The CCL will always stay close to my heart with all the dedicated people, projects, books and experiences that it entailed. Furthermore, there are the friends that became colleagues and the colleagues that became friends - and the brilliance and originality of students...

- Author Elzet Hurter
Published by Elzet Hurter

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