Hagis in the highlands
Koeksisters. Prof Paul du Plessis misses koeksisters. There in Edinburgh’s cold where he lives his mind sometimes wanders along a river of syrup so that he can almost taste this sweet pastry. Yes, he misses that “and biltong, and the people”.
This 42-year-old legal historian and expert in Roman Law from the famous University of Edinburgh has already written various books on this subject. He smiles brightly. He is not only back at his alma mater, the Faculty of Law at the North-West University’s (NWU´s) Potchefstroom Campus, but as a bonus it is a lovely sunny day – something he rarely sees in his adopted home.
“The darkness and cold in Scotland have their merits – you become very productive. When the sun shines like it does now,” he says and points to the lawn in front of the Faculty of Law where the North-West sun is shining brightly, “you want to sit outside and read a book.”
When you glance at his CV you can deduce just how shy the light is in that far-northern place.
“Well, yes,” he smiles self-consciously.
He lives almost 14 000 km north as the Airbus flies, and now he is back, although only for a few days – back here in Potch among the almost familiar but still a bit different.
“It’s nice, good to be back. Many things have changed though. There are so many new buildings on campus and in town. Tom Street (now Steve Biko) is totally different. And the Sports Village...”
As a boy in the Potchefstroom Gimnasium he shuddered at the thought of afval, but there where the river mouth of the Forth runs into the North Sea he has learnt to eat haggis. After a long evening out that is the best medicine, he promises. Haggis: die heart, liver and lungs of a sheep are ground together with onions, raw fat, spices, oats and stock and served covered in the sheep’s stomach. Eish, it’s probably a case of when in Rome….
He has been at the University of Edinburgh since 2002 and for this citizen of the Highlands it is a case of being far from home but still at home.
“The Afrikaners and the Scots are very similar. Both are good-natured, friendly people, but also honest and frank. You know exactly where you stand with them. We are definitely more like the Scots than like the English. One does not feel strange at all when you are among them,” he explains.
Perhaps not strange to him, although his six-feet-all-the-way-to-heaven body definitely draws some attention.
“No, I am only about six feet seven inches,” he says.
About his stature in the legal community you cannot argue, and if there is one person who can speak with authority about the position of legal affairs in his country of birth , he can: “The South African legal landscape is just as healthy as any other. There will always be difficulties, no-one is perfect. What I did see, which is very heartening, is the impartiality of the legal courts. This is very important. They have shown time and again that they will not yield to political pressure. They are prepared to take a stand. That is healthy.”
As senior lecturer in Civil Rights and Legal History he tries every day to reflect the lessons that he learnt at the Potchefstroom Campus in the direction of his students.
“I never felt here that someone was too busy to speak to me. The doors were always open and on the inside the lecturers were friendly and accommodating. I learnt that your qualifications do not make you who you are – your humanity does. This is the right way to handle things and this is something that I took with me. I try to apply this principle myself.”
If he could promulgate any law, what would his choice be …
“There is too much legislation, and legislation does not solve all problems. People do not always think about what they do. Instead of bringing in new legislation, one should rather have a general review of the existing laws. However, there are already so many that this could be very difficult, and one can easily sink into a quagmire of laws and regulations.”
...But perhaps this one:
“I would put a work-life-balance act into place, because I think that that is what we should do. Life is short. Yes, one must work hard, but you must also enjoy your life.”