College of Law

Internationally renowned lawyer and alumnus appointed Executive Dean of the College of Law

Prof Vinesh Basdeo, Executive Dean of the College of Law

The Executive Dean of the College of Law (CLAW), Prof Vinesh Basdeo, lays his case before the Unisa community.

Please tell us about yourself.

I took up office as Executive Dean of the College of Law on 1 December 2018. I was the Head of Research and Postgraduate Studies, prior to which I was the Chair of the Department of Criminal and Procedural Law. I hold the following degrees: BA Honours (Police Science, cum laude), LLB (Unisa), LLM (Unisa) and an LLD (Unisa).

I was appointed as a lecturer in the School of Criminal Justice at the University of South Africa in 2005. In 2015, I was appointed as a full professor in the School of Law.

Prior to joining the University of South Africa I was a senior manager (Assistant Director / Lieutenant Colonel) in the South African Police Service (SAPS). I was commissioned as a Captain in SAPS by the former State President Nelson Mandela in 1994. I have over ten years of combined middle and senior police management experience.

The university is a large part of my genetic make-up. I have completed five degrees and a diploma at this noble institution which I call home. I started studying at Unisa at the age of 18. I completed all of my qualifications on a part-time basis, and I am highly indebted to Unisa for affording me this life-changing opportunity.

Academic background

I have published extensively in criminal justice and criminal procedure locally and internationally in accredited journals and books, and I’m commended nationally and internationally for my contribution to criminal procedure in South Africa. I have held visiting appointments at various institutions, including the distinguished University of British Columbia, New York University and the lndira Ghandi Law University. I serve on local and international editorial panels, and I have acted as referee for numerous articles, as well as for applications for NRF ratings. I am currently rated as an established researcher (C3) by the National Research Foundation of Southern Africa.

Over the years, I have taught a variety of law subjects at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, and have provided practical legal training to criminal justice officials. In addition, I am a co-author of a leading South African criminal procedure textbook, which is prescribed by six South African universities.


What is it about Unisa that attracted you?

The university is a large part of my genetic make-up. I have completed five degrees and a diploma at this noble institution which I call home. I started studying at Unisa at the age of 18. I completed all of my qualifications on a part-time basis, and I am highly indebted to Unisa for affording me this life-changing opportunity.

As a researcher and an academic, I have a deep background in social, criminal justice and human rights issues, and CLAW pushes those themes forward like few others do. There is a refreshing openness here about the fact that many of us advocate for progressive social policies we feel can make the world a more just, equitable, hospitable place.

Another attraction to CLAW is the high quality and integrity of the researchers in all of our main fields. In addition to producing the larger proportion of institutional research outputs, this diverse yet interdisciplinary group of prolific scholars are well known for their policy-relevant, cutting-edge research in social science, helping to put our university on the national and global map while shaping their disciplines and public discourse in the process.

To be truly rewarding, a career must also be a vocation, reflecting a deep-rooted desire to improve things, and I am convinced that Unisa provides an apt basis for this.

These are just some of the reasons I’m pleased to be the new Executive Dean of the College of Law.

There is a refreshing openness here about the fact that many of us advocate for progressive social policies we feel can make the world a more just, equitable, hospitable place.

What are your short- and long-term goals for the College of Law?

My immediate and long-term priorities pertaining to our key deliverables and performance areas are transformation, excellence and sustainability. All three are interrelated. My approach is that excellence without transformation is not sustainable, but transformation without excellence has no integrity at all.

With students at the centre of our work it is imperative to set the standard that will enable students to thrive intellectually, socially, and personally. It is of cardinal importance that I create an enabling environment where staff and students can be inspired and find a sense of belonging.

In partnership with students and colleagues, I intend to cultivate engagement, belonging and respect; foster an integrated living and learning community; and inspire self-discovery among students.

The college will be guided by the following core values in our work with students, staff and stakeholders:

  • Inclusion: I affirm the value of individuals and our voices, our communities and our interdependence.
  • Collaboration: I find power in partnerships and in the sharing of ideas and resources.
  • Integrity: I remain accountable to Unisa and to our community.
  • Excellence: I will operate at the edges of our learning in pursuit of personal and professional development.

My approach is that excellence without transformation is not sustainable, but transformation without excellence has no integrity at all.

CLAW needs to "up the ante" on the value proposition of legal education. We need to innovate to make the value proposition of what it means to come here even more compelling. We need to take the wide range of pedagogical experiments our College has been piloting up a notch.

One of my most critical responsibilities is to establish the strategic leadership and direction of the college. I take this role very seriously, cognisant of the national, continental, and global environments and contexts in which we operate. These contexts become increasingly pertinent when we move from one strategic cycle to the next.


What drives you to achieve great results as a leader and how do you get it right?

In the spectrum that has micromanagement at one extreme and paralysis by management work at the other, I work at a comfortable medium in between those two extremes. I am a detail person; I like to see details, but I don’t get bogged down micromanaging. I’m a big proponent of consensus, but not to the point where we stall things out completely. One of the things I pride myself on is striking the appropriate balance. When we need to do a deep analysis and examine the details, I can do that. It’s important to build consensus, but we’re not going to derail something just because we’re not getting a consensus decision.

Integrity, authenticity, and leading by example are the cornerstones of servant leadership. This is the ground on which I stand.

What are the greatest changes you have seen over the years in your industry and how do you intend to keep abreast of industry developments?

As legal professionals position themselves to survive the peaks and troughs of an ailing economy, a number of distinct trends have emerged in the legal industry. In recent years, the legal industry has experienced a global paradigm shift in the delivery model for legal services. This new model, known as legal process outsourcing (LPO), transfers the work of attorneys, paralegals and other legal professionals to external vendors located domestically and overseas.

Integrity, authenticity and leading by example are the cornerstones of servant leadership. This is the ground on which I stand.

Legal outsourcing, both onshore and offshore, is transforming law practice as law firms and corporate legal departments seek to minimise costs, increase flexibility and expand their in-house capabilities. Furthermore, domestic law firms are expanding across borders, collaborating with foreign counsel and forming intercontinental mergers, erasing traditional boundaries on the geographic scope of law practice.

Although globalisation is not new, it is gaining momentum due to the growth of the internet, the automation of legal processes, developments in data security and emerging technology tools. As law firms continue to expand their footprint worldwide, globalisation will continue to reshape the landscape of the legal industry in the coming years. Legal practitioners no longer have a monopoly on the law.

The legal environment is changing, and clients can seek legal assistance from a growing number of non-lawyer professionals, including paralegals, legal document preparers, legal self-help sites, virtual assistants and offshore legal vendors. These new options enable bringing affordable legal services to disadvantaged populations and empower citizens to address their own legal matters. As the cost of legal services continues to rise, new legal delivery models will continue to emerge and gain momentum in the coming years.

As technology evolves and drives change, it’s clear that new academic business models and ways of delivering services that better meet market demands will ensure the best opportunity for future growth. The future success of the legal/ criminal justice fraternity lies on a good academic foundation that ensures that knowledge and practical experience is rightfully cascaded to students.

Many universities in post-1994 South Africa declared themselves as "African" universities without necessarily transforming their offerings, character, or identity We must differentiate our self by conscientiously and deliberately mainstreaming and affirming African knowledge and scholarship, addressing the African historical and developmental condition whilst at all times retaining our global footprint and relevance.

What advice would you give first-year students at Unisa?

By now you would have received many pieces of advice from those who care about you. I am here to stress upon you again: "Never give up." When I say "never give up", I don’t only mean never give up on your studies. I also mean never give up on your dreams. You have aspirations and dreams that are yours and yours alone. You may, or may not have voiced it yet. Keep it alive, no matter what happens. Most importantly, you should never give up on your studies. It is extremely easy to give up and it can be very tough to keep going when impediments and obstacles appear. This is equally true for all your years of study. Keep trudging along and never give up. This is a marathon, not a sprint. You can stop for a moment to catch your breath, but you must never give up.


Unisa has celebrated 145 years of shaping futures in the service of humanity. How do you see yourself adding value to this history?

During Unisa’s 145-year anniversary that was celebrated in 2018, there was an overwhelming recognition for the fact that throughout much of its history Unisa has been "shaping futures". This role remains a compelling opportunity as Unisa charts its future. The "African university" emphasises our deep commitment to being an Africa-focused and Africa-centred university; however, we are at all times equally cognisant of the demand to be globally competitive. Many universities in post-1994 South Africa declared themselves as "African" universities without necessarily transforming their offerings, character or identity. We must differentiate our self by conscientiously and deliberately mainstreaming and affirming African knowledge and scholarship, addressing the African historical and developmental condition whilst at all times retaining our global footprint and relevance.

At CLAW we will at all times strive to promote humanness, anti-racism and self-worth in the context of cultural and intellectual differences for the attainment of equality and non-discrimination on grounds including race, gender, sex, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth. These values speak to Unisa’s spirit and identity in all of its endeavours including but not limited to its scholarship and practices, its service to students and other stakeholders, its operations, sustainability imperatives. and ambition to be a leader in good governance practices.

* Interview by Tshimangadzo Mphaphuli, Senior Journalist, Department of Institutional Advancement

Publish date: 2019/02/15