Into Africa-- Cooley students travel to South Africa

By Kathryne Gilbride

Legal News

Apprehensively mounted 216 miles high, law student Jaclyn Zakrzewski prepares for the highest commercial bungee jump in the world--Face Adrenaline. Secured in a tight body harness she breathes in the high-altitude air faster and deeper, counting down 3, 2, 1... and then dives in to the lush terrain of Cape Town, South Africa.

After accomplishing the exhilarating jump she might feed and pet the tough, leathery skin of gentle elephants at Knynsa Elephant Sanctuary, and perhaps blow a vuvuzela at a 2010 FIFA World Cup event at the Cape Town stadium.

Six adventurous Cooley law students experienced this and more traveling to South Africa in June to study Comparative and International Law in the country's legislative capital, Cape Town. The Howard University School of Law hosts the trip that sent Cooley students Rolfi Adon, David Katzman, Emery McClendon, Jaclyn Zakrzewski, Karan Kukreja and Matthew Amarin to South Africa for more than a month. The 14-year-old program allows law students to experience historic, legal and political changes in South Africa as it becomes a leading power center in the region.

The students studied at The University of Western Cape, a preminent institution in the struggle for a democratic South Africa. Many of the University's faculty members now hold positions in the new cabinet and government. Students especially enjoyed informative lessons from retired Constitutional Court Justice Albie Sachs, according to Zakrzewski, who regarded Sachs as the program's most powerful, impressive and moving speaker.

"Hearing Justice Albie Sachs' story firsthand in lecture of what people went through with Apartheid, how it affected the country and the people of South Africa, as well as how the country has been able to begin to heal through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was integral to understanding South Africa," says Zakrzewski. "To be placed in an accurate context, it would have been as if a retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice was teaching a summer class here in the United States to foreigners."

Fellow Cooley student Emery McClendon attended a Comparative Constitutional Law Course taught by Sachs.

According to McClendon, Sachs' inspiring lectures influenced him to be a better person.

"When he described in detail the role he played in ending the South African Apartheid, it inspired me to always do the right thing," says McClendon, "no matter how uncomfortable it may make me feel as an individual."

The Comparative Constitutional Law Course investigates and compares South Africa's constitutional law to the United States, Britain, France, and Germany's constitution, among others.

The South Africa constitution formed after the country's first non-racial and democratic election in 1994 that resulted in the presidency of Nelson Mandela. Since his election, South Africa has changed significantly. Today the government encourages democracy, reconstruction, and development.

It was especially noticeable in the comparative constitutional law class how progressive South Africa's constitution is compared with the U.S constitution, according to Zakrzewski.

"Not only is there a right to life and liberty, which are called 'freedom rights', but they also have included 'bread rights' in their constitution," says Zakrzewski. "'Bread rights' are the right to property. They also do not have the right to a jury of your peers and only judges decide the outcome of a case due to Apartheid."

The constitutional changes result in the ability for every South African to have a voice no matter what their skin color or socio-economic status, according to Zakrzewski.

"It is remarkable that Apartheid ended only sixteen years ago," says Zakrzewski, "Does this mean that there is still not work to be done, of course not. However, South Africa has come a long way in a short period of time."

South Africa's transition to democratic rule also resulted in the welcoming of International trade and business. The industry is growing due to the country's wealth of resources. The Howard program's international business and trade courses teach students the laws of international transactions and trade law.

International trade will rapidly expand in South Africa, Zakrzewski predicts.

"South Africa is an untapped resource and has only begun its entrance into the international sphere," says Zakrzewski, "The government has made it very easy for companies to do business in South Africa."

Resulting from economic changes, Cape Town is now the largest city in South Africa and second most populated. The students lived in an area called Sea Point and shared hotel timeshares.

McClendon described the living situation as amazing.

"The area we lived in was very safe and located near great shops and restaurants," says McClendon, "Also, the 2010 FIFA World Cup was in South Africa and we were located less than two miles from the Cape Town stadium. I attended the opening match in Cape Town -- France verses Uruguay."

Post-Apartheid Cape Town appears to be like any other United States city, According to Zakrzewski.

"I was told that there were areas where certain ethnicities were not allowed to roam without passes and were not allowed to live," says Zakrzewski. "This no longer existed. Within the classroom, other ethnicities had been told they were not allowed an education to become certain professionals, this no longer exists either."

Despite Cape Town's governmental similarities to the U.S, culturally there are differences. Cape Town is one of the most multicultural cities in the world. Students embraced many opportunities to explore culture outside the classroom such as visiting the habitats of lions, African elephants, cape buffalo, leopards and black rhinoceros on the memorable "Big Five" Safari.

Enjoying a five-day break after finals, students explored Cape Town further and utilized the thriving metropolis' ease of travel to venture to other areas in South Africa.

Zakrzewski and another student rented a vehicle and took a scenic six-hour road trip on the Garden Route to Plettenberg. South Africa's progress toward becoming a developed country is what Zakrzewski took most out of the trip.

"Not only with showing the rest of the world that they can achieve a successful World Cup," says Zakrzewski of South Africa's progress, "but also showing how far they have come in the 16 years that Apartheid has been abolished."

McClendon enjoyed his break exploring Sea Point. He described Sea Point as similar to Beverly Hills.

"Most of the residents drove Range Rovers, BMW's and Mercedes," says McClendon. "Not more than a few miles away we visited the District 6 Township, where up to 16 families lived in less than 1000 square feet. Some of the shacks were built by the residents and made out of scrap wood and metal that they found. Many of them did not have running water or electricity and when it rained the roofs would leak. It was very sad to see such a huge range of economic inequality, especially since Blacks and Coloreds were on the lower end, because they have only recently been given many opportunities."

McClendon discovered an interest for business transactions on an international level while he was in South Africa.

"I was exposed to many courses that peaked my interest and prompted further research," says McClendon, "As a result, I have enrolled in the Corporate Law & Finance LL.M. program at Thomas M. Cooley Law School to continue my studies in this field."

Beyond discovering inspiration through academics and a satisfied and delighted palate for Cape Town cuisine, McClendon's favorite part about the trip was the beautiful scenery.

"I have pictures, but they do not do the scenery justice," says McClendon, "Cape Town is the most beautiful city that I've ever visited."

Zakrzewski and McClendon both recommend the South Africa summer abroad trip to interested students.

"There are many of us that made lasting friendships and continue to keep in contact," says Zakrzewski. "It was a once in a lifetime opportunity and meeting so many people that came from around the world in one place was amazing."

"I will remember my experience for the rest of my life," says McClendon.

Published: Tue, Aug 31, 2010