Law dean to zoom in on African issues

UCTs newly appointed dean of the Faculty of Law, Professor Danwood Chirwa.

UCT’s newly appointed dean of the Faculty of Law, Professor Danwood Chirwa, hopes to enhance the African focus of the university’s LLB degree and change the way students and staff view law, during his tenure.

The Malawi-born law professor said he was humbled by the appointment and the overwhelming support he had received from staff and students.

“They believe I will add value, bring stability, improve the way we work and the services we provide – that’s encouraging,” he said.

But being the dean of law was never part of his plan. In fact, neither was law.

“I became a lawyer by chance, not by design,” he said.

Professor Chirwas only option was to study education in the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Malawi, where he was the top student in the faculty that year. As a reward for academic excellence, he was presented with the South African High Commission Award and a scholarship to study law.

“In Malawi, you only get into law school after studying something else first, so I qualified. I struggled in my first year. I was more of a maths and science student.”

His first career choice was science or engineering.

He, however, has no regrets about his career choice in law.

Professor Chirwa is under no illusions about the immensity of the task.

“It’s an enormous responsibility, which will be fraught with challenges. My role is to mediate and negotiate various interests and reach amicable consensus.”

He will be responsible for the efficient and effective running of the departments and ensuring that faculty views, experiences, practices and traditions are taken into consideration in UCT’s policy development processes. On the other hand, when it comes to the greater university structure, implementing and adhering to policies and practices are high on the to-do list.

“There’s a lot of work to be done. Changing and diversifying the faculty in a meaningful way is one priority. And while there have been several ‘excellent appointments’ in the past two years, it’s not nearly enough,” he said.

Professor Chirwa emphasised the need for ongoing mentorship to grow and develop existing junior staff and raising the profile of the department to attract external academics to enrich research and teaching.

“What we teach, how we teach and who teaches should be different in 10 years’ time,” he said.

By 2029 he would like his faculty to weigh in on debates on social justice in the country and on the continent; local and global inequalities; regional economic integration and the impact of globalisation on the third world – Africa in particular.

“In 10 years from now we should have a better handle on what it means to teach law through the lens of decolonisation. That’s political jargon, I know. But there’s an academic element attached to it and we need to address it,” he said.

Adequately preparing law graduates to be the best in the country and the region in order to compete with the best in the world is another key focus.

Professor Chirwa joined UCT in 2004 as a lecturer in commercial law and has a wealth of institutional knowledge and experience. He has held various leadership positions in the faculty, including acting dean in 2014 and head of the Department of Public Law from 2009 to 2014.