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You are invited to the launch of Legends: People Who Changed South Africa for the Better


Event details

  • Date: Thursday 30 November 2023
  • Time: 17:30 for 18:00
  • Venue: Room 2027, Law Faculty, Stellenbosch University
  • Address: Old Main Building, Corner Ryneveld and Victoria Streets
  • RSVP:

There is a tendency in South Africa to think that our past is only negative. But as Matthew Blackman and Nick Dall show in their new book, Legends: People Who Changed South Africa for the Better, our history can also be viewed through a lens of hope. Indeed, there are many people, in our past and our present, whose lives and acts of leadership provide a blueprint for how South Africa could achieve its true potential.

This hope is embodied by Prof Thuli Madonsela, the book’s only “living legend” and one of the discussants of the event. The diverse legends showcased in the book show that Madonsela is not alone in her fight for social justice and the rule of law. Several of the figures discussed in the book, like Madonsela, have a connection to either Stellenbosch or the legal profession. The most obvious fellow lawyer who comes to mind is Nelson Mandela, a man who believed that the law should be at the heart of building a better future for all. But to think of Mandela, as many people do, as the only bright star in our otherwise dark history is to make a mistake.

Stellenbosch alone, for example, was home to South Africa’s first whistleblower: Adam Tas. In 1705, Tas spoke truth to power in the form of the corrupt Governor Willem Adriaan van der Stel. Stellenbosch was also the birthplace of Eugene Marais: arguably the most fascinating and unlikely of all Afrikaner heroes, and a very reluctant lawyer. And Sailor Malan — a fearless, moral hero who fought Nazis in the Battle of Britain and on the streets of South Africa after DF Malan ushered in apartheid — hailed from the Voor-Paardeberg, near Paarl.

The discussion will also recount how two women played a seminal role in South African social justice: Olive Schreiner and Cissie Gool. Schreiner fought tirelessly with her pen, writing novels, pamphlets, articles and letters decrying the injustices of the colonial system. And Cissie Gool, a Muslim woman born in the 1890s, who was the first woman of colour to qualify as an advocate in South Africa. Gool’s lifelong struggle was her attempt to uplift the downtrodden and to fight the early manifestations of apartheid in her beloved District 6. Gool’s story also opens a fascinating historical window into her father Addullah Abdurahman and land perils of the Indian and coloured communities long before the forced removals that followed the Group Area Act of 1950.

Gool through her father, Dr Abdullah Abdurahman, would also encounter two other giants of social justice: Sol Plaatje and Gandhi. Plaatje with his book 'Native Life in South Africa' made the first exhaustive attempt to protest and clarify the injustices of the 1913 Natives' Land Act. The issue of land would consume Plaatje for the rest of his life. Gandhi who spent 20 years in South Africa was perhaps the first trained lawyer to realise the legal and moral implications of civil disobedience.

Why Stellenbosch University? Tas, Schreiner, Gandhi, Plaatje, Gool, Mandela, Madonsela, represent transformative leadership blueprints worth dissecting in the academy at a time when South Africa is looking for hope inspiring leadership. South Africa owes much of its success to the proud and pioneering tradition of justice and equality. And its future depends on the next generation of leaders who are being formed in academic institutions around the county.

We hope to see you there!

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By Chair in Social Justice team
Published 23 November 2023

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About the Chair:

Professor Thulisile “Thuli” Madonsela, an advocate of the High Court of South Africa, heads the Centre for Social Justice and is a law professor at the University of Stellenbosch, where she conducts and coordinates social justice research and teaches constitutional and administrative law.

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