Prof. Wanyana Oguttu – First black woman tax law doctorate in SA

Prof Oguttu
Prof. Wanyana Oguttu – First black woman tax law doctorate in SA

The first black woman professor in UNISA’s College of Law is a recent recipient of a national “Distinguished Women in Science” Award presented to her by the then Science and Technology minister Naledi Pandor…

Professor Annet Wanyana Oguttu met her husband James at Makerere University in their native Uganda while pursuing her bachelor’s degree in law. She graduated in 1993 and worked briefly as a legal assistant with Mayanja Nkangi and Company Advocates before relocating to Lesotho.

 ”My husband had completed his studies as a veterinary surgeon and got a teaching position at the National University of Lesotho prompting our relocation,” Oguttu recalled when interviewed by The Expatriate magazine in her offices at the department of Mercantile Law at the University of South Africa (UNISA).

The couple were stationed in the town of Leribe where Oguttu worked for a law firm while also teaching literature at a local high school on a part time basis. She later took up a position in the capital Maseru where she worked for Advocate Sooknanan while pursuing a master’s degree in international tax law. She graduated in 2001 and was subsequently admitted to the local bar becoming an advocate of the High Court of Lesotho.

“Our plan when we moved to Lesotho was to improve our qualifications, so as soon as I completed my master’s I registered for a doctorate in tax law through UNISA. The course was very demanding and the fees were quite expensive. I told my supervisor that it would be difficult for me to complete it and he alerted me to an opening for a lecturer position at the university.”

Oguttu took up the position in 2003 and the family moved to SA. Her husband was pursuing a master’s degree by correspondence with the University of Pretoria at the time and a year later was also appointed to a teaching position at UNISA.

“We get to drive here together every morning,” she beamed.

She completed her doctorate in international tax law in 2008 becoming only the second woman in SA to do so and the first black woman in the country to obtain the qualification.

“Prof. Lynette Olivier, the first woman to graduate with this doctorate, is a lecturer at University of Johannesburg and was very helpful to me during my studies. I think there are few doctorates in this area because tax law is a very lucrative qualification in the commerce industry so most graduates end up being lured away from academia. For that reason, I don’t get too pre-occupied with being the first black woman with the doctorate. I think anyone could have achieved this if they put their minds to it although I am pleased if my achievements encourage black students to work harder.”

In 2009, Oguttu received a grant from the USA’s University of Michigan – African Presidential Scholars Program, where she pursued her post doctoral studies in International Tax Law and was given an award for academic excellence and outstanding contribution to the intellectual community of the University of Michigan.
Oguttu can also take credit for another first – she is the foremost black woman to be admitted as a full professor in the college of law at UNISA. She was appointed in 2010 and delivered her inaugural lecture in the same year on the complex topic of tax pairing.

“The inaugural lecturer is an hour long address that a new professor is required to give in front of invited guests and academia. My lecture was attended by officials from the South African Revenue Services as well as the National Treasury. I was nervous in the beginning but this spurred me on and the comments from my peers thereafter were very positive.”

Professor Oguttu has published several articles and conducted a significant amount of research in her area of specialisation. The South African National Research Foundation (NRF) has rated her a C2 researcher, a rating which she said she is very proud of.

“The highest NRF rating one can get is an A which is given to the real ‘centres of knowledge’. These are the people who are known to publish textbooks in certain subject areas and there are only one or two of them in the country. Then come the B graded researchers who are also highly rated specialists in their areas of research. Not far behind are C rated researchers and it pleases me to see my work quoted by students in their theses and others writing about tax law in general. SA was isolated in terms of tax law due to apartheid and therefore there is a significant opportunity to contribute to its development by way of research.”

In recognition of her work, the Women in Science Awards (WISA) granted Oguttu the second runner up position for the 2012 “Distinguished Women in Science Award: Social Sciences and Humanities”. The award was presented by the then SA minister for Science and Technology Naledi Pandor for “outstanding contribution to building SA’s scientific and research knowledge base.”

“It was a great honour to receive the award and be recognised at national level. The minister actually told me that she was impressed that I was writing things that were very rare!”

Oguttu stated that she draws her inspiration from God and attributed her success to the support of her husband who has always encouraged her to achieve more. She also found that being a foreigner was an advantage in some respects.

“As an immigrant you need to do something special to justify your status in the country. As a result I had to have a sense of determination. My success can be attributed to hard work; I am no genius and in most subjects my grades were above average rather than exceptional. It is as a result of our degrees that my husband and I were granted residency and today we are dual citizens of Uganda and SA.”

Oguttu has peer reviewed articles in several leading journals and revealed that she intends to do more consulting work in future in addition to the part-time teaching she also does at the African Tax Institute at the University of Pretoria.

In October 2012, her publications on international tax issues caught the attention of the “United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs: Financing for Development Office” which has enlisted her as one of the ten members of the “Expert Group to Develop a UN Course on Double Tax Treaties”.