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"My experience at Penn instigated my interest in jurisprudence," she says. "It brought home the whole idea that law can never be seen in isolation."
As the release of Nelson Mandela neared, Mokgoro put aside her aspirations for a doctorate to be part of the historic changes simmering in South Africa. "Although we knew the writing was on the wall, the reality struck so soon," she recalls. Mandela’s release from prison "was like a dream come true. We knew that the time had come (to end apartheid)."
When her husband was detained by the Bophuthatswana homeland government for his political activities while she was here at Penn Law, Mandela personally called Mokgoro, widely known for her distinguished career as a prosecutor and in academe, to reassure her. According to Mokgoro, he said, " ‘Don’t worry about anything. We are all here and we all work together and South Africa will be what we all want it to be. . . .You do your work and you go on and do what you have to do. We will see to everything.’ "
Named as one of the first judges of the Constitutional Court of South Africa and the first black female judge in her country, Mokgoro, then a professor of law, worked with the negotiators of the constitution to develop the momentous document ten years ago. Most of the initial work involved striking down apartheid legislation. As time has passed, questions involving human rights have become more complex and nuanced, so the courts have begun to make an effort to articulate the impact of the Constitution through their decisions, says Mokgoro.
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