Judge Chetty’s sobering speech inspires Law students to fight for justice

Judge Chetty hands over award to well-deserving student
Judge Chetty hands over award to well-deserving student

By Luvo Mnyobe, fourth-year BJourn student


On Monday, 17 February, the Rhodes University Faculty of Law held its opening ceremony for the 2020 academic year. For the event, the Faculty invited respected, retired Judge Dayalin Chetty to deliver the keynote speech. Among the guests at this event were the Dean and Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Law at Nelson Mandela University, Professor Avinash Govindjee and Dr Lynn Biggs, and members of the Rhodes University community.

In his speech, the judge spoke of his long association with Makhanda and Rhodes University. In 1971, Chetty had applied and was accepted to study at the University. However, due to Extension of Universities Act, which sought entrench the racial segregation of the Apartheid government at South African universities, he could not commence his studies at the university. 

According to apartheid legislation in force at the time, 'non-white' students had to get formal permission from the Minister of Internal Affairs in order to study at formerly open institutions, such as Rhodes University. The Minister denied Chetty entry to Rhodes University and instead designated him a position at a university designated for Indian students. Thus Judge Chetty completed his undergraduate and LLB studies at the University of Durban-Westville.

His activist spirit made him aware of the injustices of apartheid from an early age.  This awareness, sharpened by his legal education, set him on a career path fighting the injustices of the Apartheid system. At the very beginning of his career, he represented families facing forced removals from Alexandria to the homeland of Ciskei. This forced removal in terms of the Group Areas Act was aimed at removing all black inhabitants from ‘white South Africa’ to their ethnic homelands. This ‘baptism of fire’, and his dedicated representation of many anti-apartheid activists all over South Africa, shaped the lawyer, and ultimately, the judge he became.

“Despite all of the adversity you are yet to go through, if you put your mind to it, you can make it very far,” said Judge Chetty. This was a sobering reminder that a career in law and justice would not come without challenges. Overcoming challenges and being successful require hard work and commitment, the judge urged.

Deputy Dean of the Nelson Mandela Faculty of Law, Dr Lynn Biggs, said that the biggest lesson from Judge Chetty is his commitment to be a life-long ‘student of the law’, even when he was a practicing judge with over 20 years at the bench.

The evening also served as an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of students in the Law Faculty. Judge Chetty presented certificates to students who achieved academically by being placed on the Dean’s list for academic merit for 2019, and handed over a number of prizes to students in various years of study.

“Judge Chetty’s lecture and reflection of the history of the law throughout his career was a refreshing way for us to learn outside the confines of the lecture hall,” said Assandra Ogle, a student at the Faculty.