Decolonisation and Teaching Law in Africa with Special Reference to Living Customary Law

  • Chuma Himonga University of Cape Town
  • Fatimata Diallo
Keywords: Decolonisation of law, legal theory, teaching law, living customary law, interdisciplinary


The student protests in South African Universities, which started in 2015, demanded the decolonisation of certain aspects of higher education. While the primary demand is free education, issues of the curriculum and transformation connected with the country's history of colonialism and apartheid have also surfaced. In the field of law, demands for curriculum change are accompanied by the broad issue of the decolonisation of law, translating into questions of legal history, the concept of law, the role of law in African societies, the status of indigenous systems of law in the post-independent/apartheid legal system, and how law is taught in law schools.

This paper examines the idea of the decolonisation of law in relation to the teaching of law in African states previously under the influence of English or Roman-Dutch colonial/apartheid legal history. The teaching of law is with special reference to the system of law that governs the majority of people in Africa in private law and aspects of governance – living customary law. The paper examines the design of legal education with respect to three elements that are essential to the decolonisation of law and legal education. The elements under review are the inclusion of living customary law in legal education, a shift in the legal theoretical paradigm within which law is taught, and the interdisciplinary study of law. Thus, the paper links the decolonisation of law to how law is taught, with special reference to living customary law. In discussing these elements, the paper draws examples from the South African legal system, because it has the most advanced jurisprudential conceptualisation of customary law on the African Continent.


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