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The Mandela Institute is a centre in the School of Law of the University of the Witwatersrand. It comprises a small full-time staff and affiliated experts in the Wits School of Law, as well as visiting and adjunct academics with high standing and extensive experience from the legal profession, civil society, industry or the community.

Nelson Mandela was a symbol of South Africa's transition to democracy during the 1990s and beyond and the first President of the democratic South Africa graciously allowed the Institute to be named for him. While 1994 marked the country's political transition, it was equally evident that economic transformation would be necessary. The achievement of socio-economic rights in the Constitution's Bill of Rights cannot be successful without a strong economy. However, a growing economy also implies expanding the country’s environmental, energy and extractive footprint.

In order to grow its economy, South Africa must compete in a fast-changing world economy, a global economic order where investment moves rapidly with little if any sense of constitutional patriotism or nationality. In the light of these imperatives the Wits School of Law launched the Mandela Institute in 2000 to honour the contribution of Nelson Mandela to the transformation of South Africa.

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