UI law professor reflects on her work for South African democracy, Nelson Mandela

"It sounded like we were doing something crazy"

Chris Earl
Published: December 8 2013 | 6:21 am - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 12:36 am in
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The life's work of Adrien Wing can be found in the dozens of published law volumes at the University of Iowa's law school.

But as an adviser for the African National Congress from 1988 to 1993, the UI professor's work has also formed part of what is South Africa today. Wing, who has been on the faculty at UI for 27 years.

As many around the world mourn the passing of Nelson Mandela at age 95, Wing said that her work on developing a democratic constitution while Mandela was still imprisoned in 1988 may have been about hope but not necessarily immediate action.

"It sounded like we were doing something crazy," she said with a slight laugh. " 'Democracy in South Africa? What are you, crazy? Mandela's going to spend his life in jail.' Then he gets out."

Mandela was released in 1990 after serving 27 years in prison. Running with the African National Congress, Mandela won election as South Africa's president in 1994 and served for five years.

This was a long and deliberate journey for Wing who, starting in 1974 while still an undergraduate student at Princeton, became formally involved in South African politics, advocating for that nation's policy of apartheid - segregating by race - to be abolished.

"You had a white minority ruling a black majority in a quite vicious way so the world had rallied to try and point out the injustice of the system," said Wing. "Many young people, such as myself, in many countries were involved in the anti-apartheid movement. I was involved at Princeton to try and get the university to try and divest its assets in companies involved in South Africa."

Wing said, upon hearing the news of Mandela's passing, she was "overwhelmed with sadness" but she knew it was coming, given his advanced age and health battles in recent years.

While Wing never had the opportunity to meet Mandela, Wing has visited South Africa  on numerous occasions. It was on her first trip in 1991 that Wing was went to witness South Africa's transformation into a free democracy.

"I was able to watch as the new nation tried to implement the new constitution, trying the cases to see if the equality would work for the very first time," said Wing.

"That was very, very moving to me."

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