The South African Research Chair in Cities, Law and Environmental Sustainability (CLES) forms part of the Research Unit on Law, Justice and Sustainability of the NWU Faculty of Law.  The Chair has been awarded for the period 2019-2024 with the possibility of extension and is jointly funded by the National Research Foundation of South Africa (NRF) and Nedbank.  The idea of a research chair devoted to the topic of cities, law and environmental sustainability is imbedded in the negative impact and opportunities posed by phenomena such as the globalisation of urban governance, unprecedented urbanisation on the African continent, the adoption of an urban goal in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the contribution of cities to global climate change and the growing need for improved environmental service delivery in metropolitan areas, medium-sized cities and smaller towns.

CLES is devoted to legal scholarship and research skills development for sustainable urban development in South Africa, the broader African region and beyond.  To this end, the Chair is host to a number of postdoctoral fellows and postgraduate students furthering their studies in the intersecting field of law, governance, urban development and environmental sustainability.  The Chairholder is Prof. Anél du Plessis, an established researcher in the field of local government, environmental law and sustainability governance.

It is the aim of CLES a) to produce relevant research of an excellent standard through postgraduate dissertations and theses, scholarly journal articles, book chapters, books, reports and policy papers; and b) to effectively disseminate the research among policy makers, government officials, NGOs and any institution devoted to urban development and sustainable governance in order to ensure impact and to be of relevance.

CLES Research Objectives 2019 – 2024
  • To develop a new theoretical framework for the future description, analysis and development of urban law and governance in South Africa with a focus on environmental sustainability;
  • To research and analyse the legal foundations of urban development and the legally justifiable expectation that governments (including the South African government) should create communities that are safe, sustainable, resilient and inclusive; and
  • To equip a new cohort of highly-skilled and connected young legal scholars who can spearhead this work in academia and legal practice, in South Africa and beyond.
CLES Main Research Areas
  • SDG 11, international urban policy development and its implications for SA cities / urban areas from the perspective of environmental law and environmental and spatial justice theory.
  • Local governance instrumentation for environmentally sustainable cities ranging from spatial and strategic planning and sector-specific environmental management plans to command-and-control and fiscal-based instruments as provided for in SA local government, planning and environmental law.
  • Local government performance management and legal measures for municipal accountability viewed through the lens of sustainable development.
About the Chairholder

Anél du Plessis’ academic career commenced in 2005 as a lecturer. Prior to that she had served as a research intern for the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) and the NWU Centre for Environmental Management - positions which built on her LLM study on international trade and environmental law. Her early work on the plight of local communities at these institutions triggered her interest in the intersecting domain of South African environmental law and local government. Her expertise in this area developed significantly during extended research periods abroad. Since then, she has progressed in 5 years from lecturer to Associate Professor and then to full Professor of Law (2012). In 2014 she took up a 12-month post-doctoral Alexander von Humboldt Scholarship with the Humboldt University, Berlin

At present her scholarship focusses on the nexus area of environmental-, local government and different aspects of human rights law, sustainability and urban governance. She is the editor of the first and still the only extensive volume on South African environmental and local government law.  Most recently she has co-edited “The Globalisation of Urban Governance” (Routledge, 2018) with Helmut P. Aust. She has published widely and supervised more than 40 post-graduate students and post-doctoral scholars. She coordinated the NWU's LLM Programme in Environmental Law and Governance from 2015-2018 and served as the Acting Director: Research of the NWU Research Unit: Law, Justice and Sustainability from June 2018-January 2019. She is currently co-heading an Alexander von Humboldt research project with the Freie Universität, Berlin with the focus on “Safe and Sustainable Cities”. She is a rated researcher of the South African National Research Foundation (NRF), served as an elected member of the South African Young Academy of Science (SAYAS) and is an alumnus of the scholarship programmes of the DAAD, Fulbright and Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. She has been a member of the Executive Committee of the Environmental Law Association of South Africa for the past thirteen years and serves on the Teaching Committee of the international IUCN Academy of Environmental Law.  She served as an assistant editor of the Potchefstroom Electronic Law Journal from 2007-2018 and has led several law and development projects in conjunction with the Konrad-Adenauer Foundation since 2007.  She regularly works on assignments for non-governmental organisations and government departments and is currently a member of the South African Law Reform Commission Advisory Committee for Project 146: Regulatory Compliance and Reporting Burden Imposed on Local Government by Legislation.

About the composition of the CLES

CLES comprises of a team of devoted early career law researchers who actively work with the Chairholder towards the attainment of the Chair’s research objectives and skills development agenda.  Due to the nature of their work, all team members are expected to reside in Potchefstroom for the duration of their study or appointment.