How did you get involved in the anti-apartheid struggle?
I arrived at university in early 1975 with a youthful anger and rejection of the government and system of apartheid under which I had grown up. Shortly after I was elected to the Student Representative Council in April 1976 the police opened fire on students demonstrating against the inferior “bantu education” they were subject to in Soweto, outside Johannesburg. Within a short period there were demonstrations around the country and hundreds of school children and students were killed by the police as they attempted to suppress the uprising. I soon became active in the student press and two years later I was elected President of the South African Student Press Union, which coordinated student newspapers that were critical of the apartheid regime and which were repeatedly banned by the state. Through these experiences I became increasingly active in anti-apartheid struggle and was forced into exile in Botswana in 1979 from where I continued my participation in the struggle.
You are the director of the Global Legal Studies Center. What is it and what does it do?
The Global Legal Studies Center or GLS is an ongoing collaboration between the Law School and the Division of International Studies with two central foci. First, GLS brings together and facilitates the work of faculty who are engaged in research on law or legal institutions and legal activity beyond the borders of the United States. GLS has both a global reach and an interdisciplinary focus. We have brought together faculty from around the campus as well as our own law faculty who are involved in research and outreach around the world. Second, GLS is involved in outreach and education efforts on international legal issues within the State and coordinates the Law School’s exchange programs in which our students study abroad and we welcome students from our exchange partners at universities in Africa, Europe and Latin America to our campus. GLS also coordinates a number of lecture series, conferences and workshops on global legal issues, ranging from constitution-building and economic development to human rights and the law of war. Finally, GLS has partnered with the Wisconsin International Law Journal in hosting the journal’s annual symposium, which brings speakers to campus and has most recently addressed such issues as the role of international lawyers on the one hand and Islamic law on the other.
What do you study and why is your work important?
My work focuses on the relationship between global norms or legal regimes and the attempt to use law to address social conflict within particular national contexts or in the context of specific social problems -- such as access to medicines in developing countries in the context of the global HIV/AIDS pandemic. While a large part of my work is still focused on the reconstruction of the state, through constitution-building and the globalization of constitutionalism, I am also working on a number of projects that explore the role law is playing, or might play, in facilitating access to particular social resources such as medicines, health, land and water. I feel that the significance of my work lies in seeking ways to understand how law might provide an alternative to often violent conflicts and also as a realm in which the construction and mediation of rights might provide an effective means of addressing the often seemingly irreconcilable conflicts over resources and governance that plague our world.
How does a student get to know you?
I hold regular office hours during which I am very happy to meet and talk with students, and not only those who are in my classes or have specific questions about international law or South Africa. I also look forward to running into students outside of class, in the hallways, around campus and often around town.
How does the Law School’s law-in-action approach influence your research or your teaching?
The Law School’s law-in-action approach is central to the ways in which I approach both my research and teaching. This emphasis on how the law works in practice and within particular contexts has helped me understand how global norms might play out very differently and may be deployed in different ways depending on local history, legal institutions and the nature of particular conflicts. At the same time, this need to look beyond the published opinions of courts or the formal laws and rules adopted by governments has meant that I have remained closely engaged in the issues, and often even the conflicts, within which my research is embedded. In the classroom the law-in-action approach helps me to explore with my students the “double life” that is central to the rule of law. On the one hand, we need to understand how legal texts and doctrine frame law, while on the other hand, understanding the role of context and the varied conditions that shape how law works in practice. The law-in-action approach allows us to understand both the limits and potential of law and I believe is vitally important in preparing our students to be effective participants in a fast-changing and conflicted world.
What’s the best thing about your job?
I love working with students and feel privileged to have the opportunity to continue to work closely with colleagues around the world and in South Africa in particular.
How do you spend your time outside of work?
When I am not working I am usually with my family. I practice Tae Kwan Do with my two sons and we all love cycling around Madison, traveling and sailing in the summer.
If you could choose one person (living or dead) to take to lunch, who would it be and why?
I would choose Oliver Tambo, who was Nelson Mandela’s law partner, Acting President of the African National Congress in exile and an extraordinary human being. While I once had a brief opportunity to work directly with him and mourned his untimely illness and death, which prevented him from enjoying the liberation of South Africa to which he dedicated his life, I would cherish the opportunity to ask him about his life and the extraordinary and difficult decisions he made with his colleagues in pursuing the struggle against apartheid.