AMANDLA! WOMEN TO WATCH EDITION
Ntombizozuko Dyani-Mhango, Ph.D.
Professor of Law, Department of Jurisprudence, University of Pretoria.
Why did you decide to study law?
I remember my grade 6 teacher asked us what we wanted to be when we grow up and I said I wanted to be an advocate so that I can help my people. My teacher was not very encouraging as he reminded us that we might not become what we wanted to be. He was cautious because this was during the height of apartheid in South Africa. Indeed, I was admitted as an Advocate of the High Court of South Africa years later, though I have never practised law because I chose the route of legal academia.
What is your proudest professional moment thus far?
This year in July, I became a full professor after 16 years of being in the legal academy. This proved to myself that all the hard work and sacrifices I have made have finally resulted in this achievement. A dream I have held since I started this journey.
Looking back, what is one decision/action you would have done differently?
I could have started with a humanities degree before embarking on a pure law degree (LL.B). I believe that courses such as philosophy, political science, sociology and history would have been instrumental to enhance my critical thinking skills to be able to contextualize the law better.
Share some major professional challenges you have faced, or continue to face as a woman in law.
As a Black South African woman in the academy, I found that I had to constantly prove myself three times more than others. There were many hurdles that I had to jump through to be where I am today. These include not being taken seriously in my craft and felt like a perpetual minor especially since I started at the lowest rank in my previous academic home. One must read the anthology, Presumed Incompetent: The Intersection of Race and Class for Women in Academia edited by Carmen Gonzalez et al (2012), where women of color and Black women in academia in the United States relay their ‘stories of resilience and survival’ in academia. The stories speak about the violence of being in the academy. My story can be found there even though I have never contributed a chapter. Changing academic homes has been the best decision I have ever made.
What are some practical strategies for survival in the legal profession?
Understand yourself – your strengths and your weaknesses. To do so you must cancel out all other noises out there and work on improving yourself. This is an ongoing process, so give yourself time. Have a personal plan or vision in mind. I had a three-year plan to move up the ladder from associate lecturer to associate professor. Because I knew that moving from the associate professor position was going to take me longer than three years, I gave myself some leeway to just enjoy the academy with no pressure and to craft my teaching and academic citizenship besides the research. Then once I was ready to apply for full professorship, I went back to my three-year plan. And I reached my goal.