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Change the world


Ocean-loving attorney and master’s student Yonela Ndila is passionate about ocean governance and the law of the sea.

A legal eagle studying in the Faculty of Law through the Nurturing Emerging Scholars Programme (NESP), she is committed to contributing research and findings to this growing area of global concern.

“I always wanted to go to university,” says Ndila, who grew up in Khayelitsha. “So many young people in the townships drop out of school and are unemployed, but I wanted something better. Fortunately, my parents, both nurses, encourage and sacrificed for my siblings and I to pursue our education.”

Rising star

After her BCom Law and LLB at the University of the Western Cape, Ndila set her sights on doing her master’s.

The NESP route made this possible, as her undergraduate degrees had put considerable financial strain on her.

Her career goals are clear: to contribute to academic through both research and practical experience.

Ndila was admitted as an attorney of the High Court of South Africa and notary in November last year.

“For my master’s thesis, I am researching maritime cyber security in the South African context, looking at the increase in cyber attacks on South African ports and ships. It’s an area of law that definitely needs developing, as most people within the fraternity are not familiar with it. I needed something that would set me apart, and this aspect of the Law of the Sea is it.”

She started her Master’s in 2021, supervised by Professor Patrick Vrancken and Dr Denning Metuge, a postdoctoral fellow in the SARChI Chair of the Law of the Sea and Development in Africa, which is held by Professor Vrancken.

Gaining sea legs

Writing her first research paper was tough and difficult, as she had never been exposed to the Law of the Sea before.

“The task was to analyse the tribunal’s decisions in the following case: Chagos Marine Protected Area Arbitration (Mauritius v United Kingdom, PCA case 2011-3, award of 18 March 2015.

“The dispute in the case concerned the United Kingdom establishing a 200 nautical mile Marine Protected Area (MPA) in and around the waters surrounding the Chagos Archipelago in April 2010 - the archipelago is governed by the United Kingdom as the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). This meant that commercial fishing was prohibited, and strict limits were placed on fishing for personal consumption; other activities in the MPA were also prohibited.

“This dispute raised issues of sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago. Mauritius claimed the United Kingdom was not entitled to declare the MPA because it was not a coastal state in terms of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), an international treaty adopted and signed in 1982.”

According to the Tribunal in this decision, in establishing the MPA, the United Kingdom was under an obligation to “endeavour to harmonise” its policies with Mauritius. The Tribunal added that there are instances whereby environmental considerations could potentially justify, for the purposes of Article 194(4), the infringement of Mauritian fishing rights in the territorial sea.

They accepted, however, that such justification would require significant engagement with Mauritius to explain the need for the measure and to explore less restrictive alternatives - something which Mauritius believes was not done.

The Tribunal therefore concluded that the declaration of the MPA was not compatible with Article 194(4) and Mauritian fishing activities in the territorial sea.

With this under her belt, Ndila’s research confidence grew.  

In addition to her master’s, Ndila participates in various initiatives and programmes of interest, having identified the need for innovation in the legal practice. These include the Legal Geek Mentorship Programme and various webinars and roundtable talks organised by various local and international organisations, such as the Innovation in Law Studies Alliance, and assisting with the organisation of a panel webinar on POPIA, the Cybercrimes Bill and the future of Information Security in South Africa, hosted by the Innovation Law Club

She is passionate about legal empowerment and development and hopes her master’s will afford her the opportunity of making a lifelong contribution to the legal fraternity.

Contact information
Ms Lyndall Sa Joe-Derrocks
Publications Practitioner
Tel: 27 41 504 2159