With Mandela's Passing, UI Law Professor Remembers Work on Nation's Constitution

By Chris Earl, Reporter

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By Chris Earl

IOWA CITY - 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.

Yet some of her research has also touched what South Africa is today.

"I was an adviser from 1988 to 1993 to the African National Congress," said 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 and 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."

As more Americans became aware of segregation in South Africa, Wing, who earned her law degree from Stanford, had started at the University of Iowa.

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 she said she never met Mandela, face-to-face, Wing has taken ten trips to South Africa, the first in 1991 to underline and highlight her quiet pride in those years to transform the nation 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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