AMANDLA! VANGUARD EDITION
Prof. Najma Moosa
Senior Professor of Law, University of the Western Cape (UWC)
Advocate of the High Court of South Africa
My Story, Your Inspiration
Becoming the University of the Western Cape (UWC)'s first alumna to receive a Master's degree and a Doctoral degree in law, as well as being the first Black female Dean of a South African Law Faculty, were some of the most profound moments of my professional life. I have four law degrees. My LLM and LLD degrees awarded at UWC were the first to deal, respectively, with the Islamic law of succession, and with constitutionalism and Muslim Personal Law. I pursued doctoral research at Yale Law School and post-doctoral research at the School for Oriental and African Studies.
I encountered several challenges along the road to success. Before democracy, a local funding application to pursue doctoral studies would be declined on the basis that the topic was not relevant enough. I did not accept this lightly and requested reasons for the refusal. I used the feedback to my advantage to improve my end-product. As South Africa transitioned to democracy, I was ready to change this trajectory for the better when a Yale fellowship beckoned. My initial appointment as Dean was also fraught with opposition from the Faculty. My appointment signaled the death knell for the norm of appointing deans from the "old boys club". Some of these "old boys" supported my appointment and offered mentorship. Asking for advice did not necessarily mean I would follow it. I could sift through varying views and stand my ground for what I thought was the best for the Faculty and students. Just as a woman usually only becomes a mother when her first child is born, an academic is not born with administrative experience. I was willing to face my fears, ask for advice and learn on the job. I also acknowledged that, as is natural with any death, I had to afford those colleagues who resisted my appointment an opportunity to mourn the loss of the status quo ante. As a result, after five years, I was unanimously reappointed as Dean for a further five years.
With academic experience that spans more than 30 years, I am also acknowledged as a National Research Foundation (NRF) rated researcher whose accomplishments include drafting contributions to two South African Law Reform Commission projects on Muslim children and on Muslim marriages. I have written widely on Muslim Personal Law or Muslim Family Law, Islamic Law, Human Rights, and Gender Equality, amongst other research areas. In August 2019, I was nominated for the inaugural Women in Law South Africa (WOZA) award in recognition of my excellence in academe. In October 2020, I was nominated by the Dean of the UWC Law Faculty as the 'Top Achiever' in the Law Faculty for the second edition of Digimag, an initiative of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) focusing on excellence of women academics and women leaders at UWC. In December 2021, I received the Panache Women of Wonder (WOW) award.
The following were some of the lessons I learnt: accept criticism graciously; don't adopt a defeatist attitude or accept rejection, and vested interests often result in biased views. I love good quotations but have not had the time to find an appropriate one yet. Instead, I leave you with a combination of rough translations of my high school and university mottos: "be the best you can be" (vel primus vel cum primis) and "look to the future and learn from the past" (respice prospice). I do so because the lessons I learnt from these mottos were not only for school and university but for life.