On Monday 9 November 2020, the Department of Private Law in the Faculty of Law at UWC launched its first research centre, the Centre for Legal Integration in Africa (CLIA). The event, which was chaired by the Head of the Private Law Department, Professor Francois du Toit, occurred online via Google Meet. The audience included members of the UWC community, stakeholders in the justice sector, and scholars from universities in and beyond South Africa.
Opening the event, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation, Professor José Frantz, remarked that CLIA is unique for its interdisciplinary nature. She noted that as “UWC is a research-led institution, centres are key to driving research that impacts society locally, nationally and internationally.” She expressed hope that the interdisciplinary nature of CLIA would help to provide solutions to some of the pressing problems of society.
Echoing the DVC’s sentiments, Professor Du Toit added that CLIA would “break down the misconception” that private law is not interdisciplinary.
Speaking on the institutional background of CLIA, the Dean of Law, Professor Jacques de Ville, described its establishment as “a very significant and proud moment in the history of the Faculty of Law.” He recalled that CLIA emerged from the Faculty’s 2018 strategic plan, which aims to promote the establishment of research chairs and centres of excellence in designated niche areas.
These centres are expected to increase research output and attract postgraduate students. To meet these goals, CLIA will contribute to research capacity, attract funding, expand community engagement and internationalisation, and pioneer an interdisciplinary LLM in Legal Pluralism and Family Law in Africa, which will commence in January 2022.
CLIA’s acting director, Dr Anthony Diala explained the motivation for its establishment. He noted that the interaction of legal orders in South Africa is problematic because of dissonance between the past and present social settings in which Africans interact. This dissonance is complicated by the tense relationship between indigenous customs, which possess communal, welfarist features, and colonially imposed statutory laws, which possess industrial, individualistic features. Accordingly, CLIA seeks to shift academic and policy attention away from conflict of laws to dialogue between statutory laws and indigenous African laws.
Dr Diala also remarked that post-apartheid law reforms towards a South African common law lack systematic research grounded in a theoretical framework of legal integration. He stressed the importance of CLIA’s mission by referring to legal history, which suggests that the laws colonially transplanted to African countries will eventually merge with indigenous African customs to produce a South African common law.
He ended by inviting scholars, traditional leaders, civil society organisations, and department of justice officials to collaborate with CLIA to achieve its mission.
The launch was preceded by a meeting of the statutory members of the CLIA Advisory Board, which elected professors Christa Rautenbach of North-West University, Enyinna Nwauche of Fort Hare University and Janine Ubink of Leiden University as the inaugural academic board members, along with Advocate Msizi Mbambo of the KwaZulu-Natal bar as the industry member.