18 Days after South Africa announced its first confirmed corona case, the president announced a 21 day lockdown. Two weeks into the 21 days, the lockdown was extended with two weeks. A week later, on day 25, the president announced the 5 phase approach to ending the lockdown. While the restrictions have been reduced, that announcement has essentially placed us into an indefinite lockdown period. Today is day 64.
During this period, I’ve had to make several adjustments because life as we’ve always known it has come to a complete stand still. I spent most of my days reminiscing on past experiences. On some days I’d even try to imagine what I’d be doing then, if it weren’t for the pandemic and lockdown. It is for this reason that I’m always excited for a notification from Google photos.
On the 13th of April, I received another one of those Google photos notifications: “Today, 2 years ago”. One glance at the pictures and my mind took a time travel back to that day. I was an 18-year-old first year law student at the University of Pretoria. Our faculty house, @lawhouse had organised its annual excursion to the Constitutional Court. A few weeks before that excursion, one of our Jurisprudence lectures was on South Africa’s court system and its judicial principle of precedence. I had learned that the Constitutional Court is the highest Court in the land and that it set the ultimate precedence for all the lower courts. A few weeks after that lecture, there I was standing at the front door of the Constitutional Court.
Looking through the pictures I took that day set me on a journey of reflection. I am currently in the penultimate year of my LLB degree. The finish line isn’t looking so distant anymore. Having to start consciously planning for life beyond graduation has also cemented this feeling. When I look back at all the knowledge I’ve consumed in the 19 modules completed over the last 2 years, what stands out the most is realising that everything I’m learning in law school is only but a tool kit that will set me up for a life long journey of learning and unlearning. The law is ever changing to keep up with society’s dynamic needs. And so whatever trajectory my career will take within the legal fraternity, I am going to have to continuously unlearn as laws become obsolete and learn as new laws get introduced.
I recently tweeted that my favourite part about studying is when I begin to understand and draw links between the different modules on my own. It affirms that I’m not studying my modules in isolation from one anouther and that I’m getting closer to completing the big puzzle i.e. graduation. To my surprise 2000 other followers shared the same sentiments.
By merely observing the declaration of the State of Disaster in terms of the Disaster Management Act and its subsequent lockdown regulations, I found myself drawing links between modules such as Legal Interpretation, Constitutional Law, Administrative Law and Law of Contract to name a few. I have also been following cases where applicants approached the court to challenge the constitutionality of the regulations and sought to vindicate their rights. Seeing the law in action responding to unprecedented times has truly intrigued the legal scholar in me.
When I first started studying law, I remember feeling very uncomfortable with how inaccessible the law was to civil society and yet they were expected to observe it. The law jargon made it very exclusive to members of the fraternity and I always wondered which lay person regularly consulted the Government Gazette to look out for any new changes to the law. When the lockdown was announced, my anxiety around the regulations possibly being inaccessible to civilians was lessened when the ministerial briefings were televised. Law firms and legal practitioners have also gone on to maximise the reach of their online platforms by blogging the regulations and their implications in simple terms. One of the platforms that has stood out for me is @learned _friend_sa, an Instagram page by Adv. Rethabile Seema and Adv. Aurelia Nxumalo where they take a snapshot of the top news and stories of the week which may have legal implications or consequences. Their platform is a great depiction of how legal practitioners are constantly learning and unlearning as the laws change and new ones come into being.
Like many sectors, universities have had to resort to emergency remote learning. From the start of my degree in 2018, my university has always exposed us to online learning platforms however that cannot compare to having to completely study remotely. I am learning as a I go along. Some days are good and it feels like I am in control. Some days are not so great and I feel very overwhelmed. Navigating my way around surviving a pandemic while simultaneously completing this academic year will most certainly be one of the biggest defining moments towards completing this degree. But for now, a luta continua.