Alumni Short
Students Explore Comparative Law in South Africa Ithaca, NEW YORK, Mar 31, 2016

This past winter break students enrolled in Professor Muna Ndulo’s “Law and Social Change: Comparative Law in Africa” travelled to Johannesburg, South Africa, for the experiential portion of the course. During the three-week trip, students collaborated with faculty and students at the University of Johannesburg to examine, analyze, and explore first hand the interplay of law and society.

“Learning about the different legal topics from people who actually live under those laws and experience them every day was certainly a unique experience . . . ,” says Kimberly Black ’17.

According to Ndulo, the course’s combination of academic classroom learning and field experience provides an innovative approach to learning about the law, societies, cultures, and the challenges of post-apartheid South Africa. Now in its third year, the course focuses on the plural law systems that are widespread throughout Africa, where customary law derived from indigenous practices that coexisted with British Common Law and other legal systems that had been imported by European colonizers. Now in its third year, the course continues to attract Cornell students interested in learning how the law (specifically in South Africa) can be harnessed to bring about social, economic, and political change.

Edgar Mkrtchian '17 noted that "The most memorable experiences came about from interacting and engaging with individuals to learn about their lived history and the history of the country."

During the first week, students took intensive law courses at the University of Johannesburg, which were led by the Dean of the Faculty of Law, Letlhokwa Mpedi. Professors Mispa Roux, I.M. Rautenbach, Ernst Marais, and Sipho Nkosi taught portions of the courses as well. During the second and third weeks, students immersed themselves in South African society and engaged with individuals and organizations in Johannesburg directly involved in the administration of law.

Students also traveled to Soweto to visit the home of the late president Nelson Mandela, Klip Town Square, where South Africans of all races gathered in 1954 to adopt the Freedom Charter (the foundational document of the 1996 South Africa Constitution), and Constitution Hill, seat of South Africa’s Constitutional Court since 2004. While there, they learned about the infamous Number Four prison, site of the Old Fort, where both Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela were once imprisoned.

The course also featured visits to and discussions with staff of the Southern African Litigation Center and the Sonke Gender Justice Network, as well as networking opportunities with practicing lawyers from the Johannesburg bar.