With effect from September, Private Law's Prof Juanita Pienaar will be serving as the Stellenbosch University Law Faculty's very first vice-dean of research and internationalisation.
Prof Pienaar will continue her primary duties as a lecturer in Customary Law, Property Law and Advanced Property Law, as well as researcher and Faculty committee member, stepping down only as head of the Department of Private Law. “I am excited," she says of her new role. “Because it is a newly created portfolio in the Faculty, we have a blank slate, so to speak, and the portfolio's scope and parameters can be sculpted according to international, but especially also national and African needs."
The new vice-dean is motivated for this challenge, knowing that she can count on the support and assistance of the Faculty's research committee and talented, enthusiastic staff. “We are a strong team in the Faculty, and I am looking forward to brainstorming and developing ideas with Dean Prof Nicola Smit and other colleagues. At the heart of the matter is the Faculty, its staff and students, and their needs," she says.
Prof Pienaar's own research focuses are property law in general, and land reform and related matters in particular. She boasts an extensive publication record, including the 2014 book Land Reform, which forms part of the Juta Property Law Library. She is currently working on another two publications. The one is another Juta book, this time on customary property law and co-authored with Prof Elmien du Plessis. The other, Property in Housing, sees Prof Pienaar in the role of editor, with Gustav Muller and Sue-Mari Viljoen as co-authors.
One of her first priorities as vice-dean will be to focus on research, which has been affected by the pandemic over the past 18 months. “Understandably, the University has had to place significant emphasis on teaching and learning in order to complete the academic year and assist our students as best we can. Yet COVID-19 has also affected how we approach and conduct research, and research visits and conferences have suffered," she says.
Asked about her work strategy and how she copes with challenges, Prof Pienaar stresses the importance of collaboration as well as self-management and organisation. “Find a sounding board who can listen and assist when necessary. Be realistic: You cannot be everything to everyone the whole time. And plan your week as best you can. COVID-19 has shown us that we can plan, and then everything changes in any event. Still, I have found that by planning and scheduling, one does feel more in control, even if it's only in theory!" she says.
“My motto is 'Wat klaar is, is klaar' ('Don't procrastinate'). If you can complete a task, just do it!" she adds. “At first, my children found my motto very annoying, but have now started using it themselves! I am inspired by people who rise above their circumstances and persevere. I have a lot of respect for resilience."
The drastic changes brought about by the pandemic have also taught her some additional valuable lessons. “The pandemic has significantly affected how we interact at work, in our neighbourhoods, and with friends and family. I now realise there is a lot to be said for popping into someone's office just to find out how that person is doing. I have missed that."
Her message to the campus community in these extraordinary times? “Firstly, purposely look for the good things in life – even if they're small and seemingly insignificant – and grab on to them. Secondly, take care of yourself before you take care of those around you: After all, you cannot pour from an empty vessel."