After era of turmoil, new UCT law dean vows to steady ship
Prof Danwood Chirwa steps in after the former dean left under a dark cloud
After navigating its way through stormy waters, the faculty of law at the University of Cape Town has a new dean who is all about steadying the ship.
Acting UCT vice-chancellor Prof Loretta Feris announced that Prof Danwood Chirwa – originally from Malawi – had been selected for the high-profile post.
“He takes the reins from Professor Hugh Corder, who has been acting in this position,” Feris said, adding Chirwa had been at the university since 2004.
His appointment follows a faculty crisis last year that culminated in controversial former dean Prof Penelope Andrews leaving under a cloud.
Academics in the faculty accused the UCT executive of compiling a report that whitewashed Andrews’s reign by covering up bullying, financial mismanagement, patronage and the fact that the university had almost lost its LLB accreditation under her watch.
The report was later revised after a faculty vote on its accuracy, but Andrews insisted the allegations were “malicious and untrue”.
Prof Rashida Manjoo, a former UN special rapporteur on violence against women, said written submissions had been sent to the executive about the “hostile work environment and bullying culture” under Andrews. But when she left UCT, the executive had “put out a glowing statement”.
Andrews told TimesLIVE at the time: “It is my opinion that no prior dean [I am the first black dean at UCT Law] has been subjected to this level of vilification and mistrust.”
Chirwa has now committed himself to bring stability.
“I am humbled by my appointment and by the overwhelming support I’ve received from staff and students. They believe I will add value, bring stability, improve the way we work and the services we provide. That is encouraging,” he said.
“It’s an enormous responsibility, which will be fraught with challenges. My role is to mediate and negotiate various interests and reach amicable consensus.”
Chirwa did not originally plan to study law. He said his first career choice was science or engineering, but in his matric year, Malawi’s education authorities disqualified his school on maths after issues with the exam paper. That meant pupils were unable to register for any university degrees that required maths.
Following that, his “only option” was to study education at the University of Malawi, where he emerged as the top student in the humanities faculty.
As a reward for academic excellence, he was presented with the South African High Commission Award and a scholarship to study law.
“In Malawi, you only get into law school after studying something else first, so I qualified. I struggled in my first year. I was more of a maths and science student. But I learned it [law] and since then I’ve not looked back. I have no regrets about my career choice,” he said.
Now that he is dean of one of the leading law faculties in the region, he is intent on building an institutional culture that ensures everyone is more engaged while creating an atmosphere that is inclusive.
“That’s the side of the faculty I am interested in changing. Moving from an individualistic atmosphere to one of collegiality is necessary,” he said.
“We need to be a faculty that addresses students’ concerns promptly and effectively while upholding our values. We need to mould students as unique students who have been raised and educated in an African university. One way of doing this is by enhancing the African focus of our LLB.”