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28 November 2019
A true advocate of human rights
Advocate Owen Kleinhans’s path to his profession was uphill, full of detours and strewn with obstacles, yet he is well satisfied with his journ​ey.

Growing up in nearby Glenhaven in Bellville South with his single mom and fraternal twin brother Oscar, Owen says he not only had an early awareness of the nearby university, but had “always dreamed of going to UWC”. 

He remembers becoming very serious about education in high school, partly because he was becoming politicised and partly because he realised that he could only improve the family’s circumstances through a good tertiary education.

Financial constraints however meant that after matriculating in 1992, Owen and Oscar headed to the Peninsula Technikon (now CPUT), Oscar to study environmental health and Owen to undertake the four-year higher diploma in education (HDE) with the help of a full bursary. They were both acutely aware that they were the first generation of their family to access tertiary education.

While studying at Pentech, Owen participated in the Fairshare programme to empower Nehawu shop stewards on labour law matters, which included engaging with the work done by the UWC Law Clinic.

Owen says, “This was a huge turning point for me, as I realised how uninformed the ordinary person is about rights in general and how to access legal services. The UWC Law clinic is an amazing place, as it introduced me to the practical aspects of the law and I decided that I would use my career to improve the lives of ordinary people.”

After graduating with a major in Economics, Owen had short teaching stints at Tafelsig Secondary and Sivuyile College before teaching at Bulumko Secondary in Khayelitsha for six years.

In 2005, he registered for part-time LLB studies at UWC while still teaching, switching to full-time study in 2006. Although the course was exacting, he says he had the benefit of “an amazing study group of fellow students who remain great friends, very good tutors and amazing lecturers such as Prof Fredericks, Prof Koen, Dr Hamman, Adv Fourie and Dr Chinnian.”

With a busy programme of lectures, assignments, tests and exams, Owen says he didn’t really get a chance to participate in the social life at UWC. His two standout memories are of graduation (“Priceless!”) and a flare-up of the #FeesMustFall protests on campus.

“I was disappointed in how police and campus protection services handled the protest,” says Owen. “I drove many students to Tygerberg Hospital that night to be treated for injuries related to rubber bullets and teargas.”

After graduating in 2008, Owen was admitted as an advocate of the High Court. Despite becoming a state lawyer, Owen maintained his interests in teaching and human rights. He acted as a graduate lecturing assistant in the EMS Faculty in 2009 and was introduced to part-time lecturing at the Unisa College of Law by former Law Faculty lecturer, Abdul Barday.

“I love teaching law. I have been teaching various law modules, including Skills for Law Students, Family Law, Introduction to Law, the Law of Persons and Commercial Law.  Many of my former students and UWC comrades have also voluntarily assisted me in outreach work like drawing up wills and providing free legal advice.”

Having worked as a children’s lawyer in 2010-2011 and been involved in the Schools Moot Court Programme for six years, Owen is passionate about empowering citizens through education about their human and legal rights.

“I am a firm believer that accessing and claiming your fundamental rights should not be hindered if you are poor, vulnerable and marginalised,” he says.

After serving as a state advocate in the legal services directorate at the Department of Justice for some years, Owen was recently appointed as the Registrar of the Western Cape High Court and has registered for his LLM in human rights law at Unisa.