South Africa (North-West University) Using the law to advance justice and sustainability

Regarding seeking innovative solutions to the social and environmental challenges faced by South Africa, the Research Unit for Law, Justice, and Sustainability from the North-West University (NWU) is at the forefront.

“The research unit utilises law to find innovative juridical solutions to advance justice and sustainability in South Africa and the region, as a member of the international community of states and as an influential country on the African continent. We focus on human vulnerability, environmental change, justice in practice and finance, trade and innovation,” says the research director of the unit, Prof Mitzi Wiese.

According to Prof Wiese, the research unit has various projects dealing with leading and cross-cutting issues about both the public and private sectors. “All full-time academic staff members of the Faculty of Law participate in the work of the research unit in one of the four active research projects.”

The Environmental Change project focuses its research on the interface between environmental sustainability, environmental justice, environmental governance, and the law. Geographically, the study in this project covers aspects of international, African regional, and South African environmental law and government.

Since the world continues to evolve, the law needs to become with it. This is especially true in finance, trade, and innovation, which perform a vital role in the evolvement of and interplay between the “real” and “virtual” worlds of society. The project’s primary focus is to promote finance, trade, and investment as it is influenced by, among other things, the use of new technologies and other developments. This is achieved by doing multidisciplinary research in a vast array of fields of law – including labor law, insolvency, and cross-border insolvency, insurance law, public procurement, virtual property, internet law, prevention of market abuse and manipulation, electronic transactions, as well as alternative dispute resolution. In essence, this project contributes to breaking legal barriers to ensure the beneficial evolution of finance, trade, and innovation.

Members of the Justice in Practice project focus their research on the law’s practical impact on society. Of particular interest is questions about law and justice. The study in the project covers a wide range of legal areas, including property, land reform, and appropriation, decolonization, family and children’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights, constitutional interpretation, the impact of international law on South African law, personality rights, legal education and law, and language.

Research conducted by participants in the Vulnerable Societies project deals with various topics linked to members’ vulnerability in societies. Exposure refers to the characteristics of a person or group and their situation that influence their capacity to anticipate, cope with, resist and recover from the impacts of factors such as physical, economic, environmental, political, institutional, chronic poverty, religion, ethnicity, unemployment, food insecurity, gender, culture, human rights abuses, marginalization, well-being, education, health, social protection, and social responsibility. The overarching aim of this subproject is to find innovative, juridical solutions to advance the interests of societies in South Africa and globally by addressing the issues that make them vulnerable.

“South Africa operates within the context of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the African Union and international law, and therefore several of the projects investigate these relationships,” says Prof Wiese.

The research unit also hosts the South African NRF Research Chair in Cities, Law, and Environmental Sustainability (SARCHi CLES). CLES is an academic institution devoted to developing legal scholarship and research skills for sustainable urban development in South Africa, the broader African region, and beyond. The chair is host to many full-time postdoctoral fellows and postgraduate students furthering their studies in the intersecting field of law, governance, urban development, and environmental sustainability.
“The faculty is also proud to have several distinguished national and international scholars and NRF P-, Y-, C- and B-rated researchers associated with our research projects,” says Prof Wiese. “Furthermore, the research unit is focused on mentoring younger and less experienced researchers. We believe our mentoring programme will assist in developing these researchers into experienced researchers to further their own academic careers and to contribute to the projects of the research unit.”