Yonela Ndila is a master's student focusing on ocean governance and the law of the sea in the Faculty of Law. She is on the Nurturing Emerging Scholars Programme (NESP).

"I always wanted to go to university, I knew that was the path I had to take after matriculating," says Ndila, who grew up in Khayelitsha. "So many young people in the township drop out of school and are unemployed, but I wanted something better and fortunately my parents, both nurses, encouraged and sacrificed for my siblings and me to pursue our education."

After her BCom Law and LLB at the University of the Western Cape, Ndila set her sights on doing her master's but says "had it not been for NESP I would not be doing my LLM (well not at this stage) as doing my undergraduate degrees placed a considerable financial burden on me."

"My career goal is to contribute to academia through research and practical experience," says Ndila, who is currently completing her practical vocational training, which she started at Knowles Husain Lindsay Attorneys Inc and is continuing with Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr Inc. Ndila will be admitted as an attorney of the High Court of South Africa and notary in November.

"For my master's I wanted to pursue an area of law which, in my opinion, needs developing, as most people within the fraternity are not familiar with it. I needed something that would set me apart, and the Law of the Sea is this area. I started in 2021, supervised by Professor Patrick Vrancken and Dr Denning Metuge." Dr Metuge is a postdoctoral fellow in the SARChI Chair of the Law of the Sea and Development in Africa, which is held by Professor Vrancken."

"I recently completed my first paper as an assignment for my coursework and it has been a very difficult undertaking as I have 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."

Ndila explains: "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," says Ndila.

According to the Tribunal in this decision, in establishing the MPA, the United Kingdom was under an obligation to "endeavour to harmonize" 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 however accepted 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.

As part of her master's studies, Ndila is currently busy researching a suitable topic towards her research paper. She is particularly interested in marine spatial planning, relating to sustainable governance of the ocean.

Apart from 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; various webinars and roundtable talks organised by Netlaw Media, TechNation, LawTech UK, Radiant Law and the Innovation in Law Studies Alliance; volunteering in the 2020 Africa Innovation Week; 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. Ndila 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.

"For my master's I wanted to pursue an area of law which, in my opinion, needs developing,
as most people within the fraternity are not familiar with it"