#WomenofUP: New Head of Public Law at UP blazes a trail for black women in legal academia

Posted on August 23, 2021

Professor Ntombizozuko Dyani-Mhango has become the first black woman professor and head of department (HOD) in the Faculty of Law at the University of Pretoria (UP).

She joined UP Law in July 2020 as a full professor in the Department of Jurisprudence and has since been appointed as full professor and Head of the Department of Public Law, effective from 1 August.

Prof Dyani-Mhango holds Bachelor of Laws (LLB) and Master of Laws (LLM) degrees, as well as a Doctor of Juridical Science (SJD) degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the US. “After completing the LLM, I became a legal researcher (intern) at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, Tanzania, for six months,” she said. “When I came back to South Africa, I was chosen as a Constitutional Court clerk, and clerked for Justice Sandile Ngcobo (former Chief Justice of South Africa).

The new HOD has a strong background in the field, having conducted research, taught and supervised in the areas of public international law, international criminal law and constitutional law for more than 16 years. This includes her time as an associate professor at the University of the Witwatersrand’s School of Law. “I knew from early on that even though I enjoy law, I was not interested in practising law,” Prof Dyani-Mhango said. “I also discovered that I enjoyed researching and writing assignments rather than sitting in three-hour exams. My former lecturer of corporate law made lecturing look easy; she barely looked at her notes. The information would just flow so easily from her. Little did I know that you really have to work hard to be able to do that!”

Other than her clerkship at the Constitutional Court, among Prof Dyani-Mhango’s other career highlights are admission as an Advocate of the High Court of South Africa, a National Research Foundation rating (C3) as an established researcher, and membership of the Governance Committee of the Law and Society Association.

Reflecting on public law as a discipline, Prof Dyani-Mhango touched on how South Africa has been faced with politically charged issues that have a bearing on public law, such as the implication of a sitting president involved in corruption and the failure of government to abide by its international obligations. “Student protests, #FeesMustFall, #RhodesMustFall and the calls for the decolonisation of the curriculum have challenged the way and what we teach our students, especially in courses such as Constitutional Law. These are just some of the issues that need to be explored in the courses that fall within the Department of Public Law,” she explained. She added that her department is fortunate to house courses such as Constitutional Law and International Law, which raise issues that affect SA and boost the department’s standing on the continent and globally. “It is critical for the Department of Public Law to play a leading role in creating space for intellectual conversations on these issues.”

Her approach as HOD will be to lead in a transparent, open and efficient manner. “My vision is not to reinvent the wheel, but to make sure that the department continues to play an important role within the faculty by pursuing internationally and nationally recognised excellence in teaching and research.”

- Author Faculty of Law and Mecayla Maseka
Published by Hlengiwe Mnguni

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