In Human Rights and The Transformation of Property, leading human rights lawyer Stuart Wilson develops a novel theory of how law leads to social change and what the prospects are for South Africa’s Constitution to shape a more just distribution of property. Wilson questions long-held beliefs about the nature of land reform and the appropriateness of the concept of ownership as a way of organising access to land and property in South Africa. In this Juta authors profile, we asked Stuart more about the message in his book, the impact he hopes it will have and his inspirations for writing.
Q: Could you tell us more about your book and your intentions for wanting to write it?
A: Property is at the heart of social justice. But almost no-one thinks about social justice in terms of property law. I wrote this book to show how anyone interested in human rights law has to consider what it means for property law.
Q: What kind of impact do you hope your book will have?
A: I’m most interested in reaching law students, practitioners, judges, and teachers of law in that order. The post-apartheid project has invested so much in law as a means to social justice, but the success of that project depends on developing a legal profession that is genuinely committed to social transformation. I hope that my book helps set out what that might mean.
Q: Tell us about your writing experience. What did you find most challenging when you wrote the book?
A: I was always conscious of the need to make law interesting and accessible to non-legal thinkers. Law is more than a set of rules. It’s a method of thought, and a set of ideological assumptions. I wanted to set that aside and present legal reasoning as something that is accessible to everyone. I did this by interspersing narratives throughout the book, and writing as clearly, and as concisely, as possible.
Q: Why is this subject matter important to you?
A: Because it has to be important to everyone. If South Africa doesn’t get property law right, it won’t get anything else right either.
Q: As a writer, where do you find your inspiration?
A: My husband, Julian Brown. He’s written three books: “South Africa’s Insurgent Citizens”; “The Road to Soweto”; and “A People’s History of Marikana”. Read them.
Q: What kind of books would you like to see more of from up and coming South African voices?
A: I’d like to see more work that breaks down the division between law and the humanities. There are many, many humanities scholars, political activists, NGOs and journalists who are interested in social justice, and who see what they do as part of that project. But they show little appetite for the law. That is a mistake, since so much of what South Africa hopes to achieve is mediated through law, and the idea that having the right rules will lead to the right kind of society.
Q: At this point in history, what do you feel is important social dialogue for Africa?
A: The difference between law and justice.
Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
A: Read. Everything. You. Can.
Q: What books are you reading right now?
A: Ellen Meiskins Wood, The Origin of Capitalism (Verso, 2017), Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America (Granta, 2010)
Q: Name the one book you believe everyone should read at least once in their lives
A: There can’t be one, but here are five that ripped my heart out, in no particular order –
- James Baldwin, Another Country (Penguin Edition, 2001).
- Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life (Picador, 2017).
- JM Coetzee, The Life and Times of Michael K (Penguin, 1985).
- Richard Flanagan, Death of a River Guide (Grove Press, 2002).
- K Sello Duiker, The Quiet Violence of Dreams (Kwela, 2014).
To buy a copy of Stuart’s book, Human Rights and The Transformation of Property, click here. Follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram for the latest Juta publications and legal industry news.