Professor Thandabantu Nhlapo had has an academic career spanning over three decades of research, writing, teaching, public service and social activism. He was Deputy Vice-Chancellor at UCT from 2004, and senior DVC since 2009. Thandabantu was appointed by President Mbeki to chair the Commission on Traditional Leadership Disputes and Claims (which came to be known as the Nhlapo Commission), with a mandate to investigate disputes and claims arising in the traditional leadership sector, a post he held between 2004 and 2007.
From 2000 to 2004, Nhlapo occupied the position of Deputy Chief of Mission and Deputy Ambassador at the Embassy of South Africa in Washington D.C. where he led the office administration as Head of Chancery and shared the representative function with the Ambassador, deputising for her and acting in her stead as Charge' d' Affaires during her official absences. Before his diplomatic posting, Thandabantu had been appointed by President Mandela in 1996 as a full-time Commissioner on the South African Law Reform Commission. As Chair of the Project Committee on Customary Law, he was instrumental in the development of significant legislation in family law, including the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act, which was passed by Parliament in 1998.
Thandabantu Nhlapo was with the Department of Private Law at the University of Cape Town from 1990 to 1995 where he advanced from Senior Lecturer to Professor and its Head. After South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994, he participated in the constitution-mak ing process as Convenor of the Technical Committee on Traditional Leadership, a committee of experts which advised the Constitutional Assembly on all matters relating to traditional leadership and to customary law. Their work contributed to Chapter 12 of the present Constitution.
Nhlapo has served as a member of the Executive Council of the International Society of Family Law (ISFL) and the Governing Council of the International Institute for the Unification of Private Law (UNIDROIT, Rome). He has authored and edited several books and has written numerous book chapters and journal articles, some of which have been cited in reported judgments of the Constitutional Court in South Africa and the Supreme Court of Swaziland. His academic research interests include African customary law and gender, women's human rights in family law, traditional values and modern constitutions, and cultural diversity under the South African Constitution. He is in demand as a public speaker.
Active in the NGO sector, Nhlapo is the current Chair of the Human Rights Development Initiative (HRDI, Pretoria), a regional non-profit body which provides legal support for people living with HIV and Aids in 10 central, eastern and southern African countries; has served on the executives of the International Women's Rights Action Watch (IWRAW, Minneapolis) and the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN, Nairobi). He is a former Deputy Chair of the Gender Education and Training Network (GETNET, Cape Town). He has spoken widely on women's human rights at local and international gatherings, including appearances before the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in New York and the UN Conferences on Women's Rights in Vienna and Dakar which culminated in the watershed United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, which Nhlapo attended as a member of IWRAW.
Thandabantu holds the honorary degree of Doctor of the University conferred by Glasgow University. He is married to Mathokoza and they have two children, Nombulelo and Meluli.