Brand van Zyl Law Library celebrates 60 years

Timeline | History of Law Library | The Van Zyl Collection of Legal Antiquarian Materials | Law Librarians | References

Message from Dean of Law, Professor Danwood Chirwa

Law libraries are absolutely central to law academics, researchers, students, and legal professionals. Law librarians equally are central to the pursuit of justice through the provision and preservation of law information and resources. Many law researchers and practising lawyers have small private libraries – and it is precisely such a library that, through Brand van Zyl’s donation to the University, gave rise to the establishment of a dedicated Law Library in 1962. We are very fortunate at UCT’s Faculty of Law to have been able to build on those modest beginnings so that in 2022 we are home to one of the top Law Libraries on the continent.

Message from Libraries Executive Director

All libraries have a beginning! The kernel of this library was the Van Zyl Collection of Legal Antiquarian Materials gifted to UCT in June 1949. The Brand van Zyl Law Library was officially opened as a branch library in 1962. And so, over the period of its 60 years in service to the law faculty, the Library has taken many forms. As the Faculty journeyed through different buildings on various campuses, so too did the Library. As the Faculty grew, so too did the Library. And therefore, it is indeed a proud moment that we may jointly celebrate this 60th year in the life of the Brand van Zyl Library.

The inextricable relationship between the Law Faculty and UCT Libraries is underpinned by collaboration, respect for the two professions and the realization of a common purpose, namely equitable access to materials for the study of the law and in-depth exploration of legal issues. From a traditional service, the Law Library has evolved into a dynamic contemporary service that enables you to navigate between the traditional mode of study on-site and the ability to access relevant electronic resources whilst on the go. By keeping pace with significant technological developments, in the field, which has resulted in a multi-format collection that caters for different academic needs, research and learning styles, the Brand van Zyl Law Library has demonstrated its responsiveness to a changing scholarly landscape, which augers well for its future.

This challenging but exciting journey towards a well-respected and comparable Library has been made possible by the professionalism, commitment and tenacity of the library staff who set the standards of practice and engagement. It is also a testimony of the volunteerism and passion of academic staff to grow the rare and antiquarian collection, which is now reputed to be one of the best of its kind.

By reflecting on this journey, let us celebrate the strength of this collaboration and milestone moment together!



A Library in service to the Faculty of Law

The UCT Law faculty is justifiably proud of its long history, being among the first institutions in the Anglo-American world to teach law.

The first formal law lectures were delivered by Jan Henrick Brand (1823 - 1888), the first Professor of Law at the South African College from 1859-1863. His well-attended lectures encouraged eager law practitioners who would later learn through practice at the court. Brand's appointment was sadly short-lived when a change of leadership at the Cape Colony resulted in the defunding and dismantling of the Law department at the College.

At that time, Caspar Hendrik van Zyl (1842 - 1913), a protégé of Jan Henrick Brand, was a prominent practising attorney. For 25 years (1865-1890), van Zyl coached students in his personal capacity who still wished to study law and sit the advocates and attorneys examinations set by the University of Cape of Good Hope. In 1890, the College Council restarted the law professorship and van Zyl was awarded the post which he held for 6 years until 1896. More students achieved LLB degrees in those 6 years than in the past 15 years.

Casper van Zyl died in 1913 and left his library of legal antiquarian works to his son Gideon Brand van Zyl (1873 - 1956), the first South African-born Governor-General of the Union of South Africa from 1946-1950.

  • The first edition of South Africa's first legal textbook

    Casper Henrick van Zyl authored South Africa's first legal textbook, The Law relating to Costs in 1882. The book greatly influenced the number of students who graduated with an LLB while the College had no Law department. He published the entire work in 1893 titled "The Theory of the Judicial Practice in South Africa", pictured in its first edition.

In June 1949, Gideon Brand Van Zyl donated the Van Zyl Collection of Legal Antiquarian Materials to the University of Cape Town, collected over 70 years between his father and himself. This significant collection became the nucleus of the establishment of a Law Library at the University of Cape Town (UCT).

The Brand van Zyl Law Library officially opened as a branch library of the University Library in 1962 and was named after its benefactor. At that time, the Library was situated in the Ritchie Building on the University’s Orange Street campus in central Cape Town.

The Law Faculty and Brand van Zyl Law Library later moved to the University’s upper campus on the slopes of Devil’s Peak in the 1970s, where it occupied the new P.D Hahn Building.

In the mid-1980s, renovations took place at the old Education building (now Neville Alexander Building) to accommodate the new Kramer School of Law and the Brand van Zyl Law Library at the south end of University Avenue.

The Law Library eventually moved down the hill to its current location on the middle campus in July 2000. Today, the Brand van Zyl Law Library occupies the two lowest floors of the Wilfred and Jules Kramer Law School Building.

  • Wille’s Principles of South African Law

    "The Principles of South African Law" was first published in 1937 by Professor George Wille, the first full-time professor of law at UCT. He was one of the best-known legal writers in South Africa whose textbooks are still in use today. "Wille’s Principles of South African Law" is currently in its 9th edition but many older editions can still be found in the Brand van Zyl Law Library.

The Van Zyl Collection of Legal Antiquarian Materials

The van Zyl collection is recognised as one of the finest collections of antiquarian legal works outside Europe and the USA.

A 16th-century illustrated book from the Brand van Zyl Antiquarian Collection, published by Antverpiae apud Joannem Bellerum in 1562. Praxis rerum criminalium, iconibus materiae subjectae convenientibus, pulchrius quam unquam hactenus, recognita atque illustrate by Joost de Damhouder (1507- 1581).

The van Zyl Collection of Legal Antiquarian Materials is the nucleus of the establishment of the Brand van Zyl Law Library at the University of Cape Town. When the Brand van Zyl Collection was presented to the University Library in June 1949, it comprised about 1800 legal works and 2500 periodical parts, 400 pamphlets and 60 portraits of Dutch jurists, collected over 70 years by the Van Zyls.

This original collection comprised primarily works on Roman-Dutch Law, on which South African law was based, with many rare and valuable items by Grotius, Voet and other Roman-Dutch Law authorities, including many items from the 17th and 18th centuries.

"It was this donation that gave the Law Library some standing in the legal community." - Tanya Barben, Jagger Journal 1986-87

This was, until recently, a 'living collection' to which donations and purchases were regularly added, most notably by Emeritus Professor Solly Leeman who was instrumental in the collection's development. Additions to the collection was made possible through a bequest received for this purpose from the estate of the late Mrs MEC van Zyl.

By 2003, when all new additions ceased, the collection comprised over 3000 volumes, with a further 1000 volumes on indefinite loan from the University of the Western Cape. In 2018, in line with Mrs van Zyl's wishes, the monetary bequest was transferred to the Faculty of Health Sciences for student bursaries.

Currently housed in a temperature-controlled preservation environment, the van Zyl Collection is recognised as one of the finest collections of antiquarian legal works outside of the Europe and USA. Visit the catalogue

  • The oldest work in the collection

    The oldest work in the collection is Opus restitutionum usurarum et excommunicationum (Restitution, usury and excommunication) by Franciscus de Platea. This rare and valuable incunabulum was published by Bartholomeus de Cremona in Venice, 1472.

Further donations to the Library

The Library’s collection was built around this initial donation of antiquarian legal works. The van Zyl collection became the first of many important donations to come to the Law Library. Some notable donations include:

de Villiers Collection

Lord de Villiers of Wynberg, the first chief justice of the former Library of South Africa, donated 200 books from the valuable volumes of his personal library in 1959.

Gilfillan Collection
The Gilfillan family donated a collection of English and South African law reports and journals to the Brand van Zyl Law Library in 1979.

Donation from Mrs Corbett
Mrs. S. Corbett, the granddaughter of the late Professor J.H. Brand, donated some of his Roman-Dutch law books. These books which include his autograph were used by him during his Law professorship at the South African College.

Law Librarians

1962 - 2022

  • First Law Librarian appointed

    EJ Roukens de Lange was appointed as the first Law Librarian in 1962 and remained in the position until his retirement in 1973.
1962 - 1973 1974 - 1976 1976 - 1981 1982 - 1990 1991 - 2000 2000 - 2008 2009 - 2012 2014 - present
EJ Roukens de Lange Janet Cartwright Rizel Gorelick Tanya Barben Latifa Omar Amanda Barratt Pamela Snyman Sadiq Keraan


DV Cowen 'The history of the Faculty of Law in the University of Cape Town, 1859-1959' (1959) Acta Juridica  1.
EJ de Lange 'The Brand Van Zyl Library' (1963) 80 S. African LJ  384.
Dilshaad Brey 'The Brand van Zyl Law Library@ the University of Cape Town (UCT)' (2005) 5 LIM  162.
RFM Immelman 'Governor-General's Gift to the University of Cape Town' (1949) 66 S. African LJ  437.
Tanya Simons 'Hugo Grotius and the Van Zyl collection' (1983) Jagger Journal  1.
Tanya Barben 'The Brand Van Zyl Library' (1986-7) Jagger Journal  27.
EJ de Lange 'Brand Van Zyl Law Library' (1963) Jaggerite  5.


Special thanks to Emeritus Professor Solly Leeman for his tireless and unstinting contribution over the decades to the development of the Van Zyl antiquarian collection that ranks as the best in the country.

Digital Exhibition Credits

Exhibition team
Professor Johann Hattingh, Gaby Ritchie, Sadiq Keraan, Ujala Satgoor, Zoelfa Jaffer, Anthea Paulsen, Carmen Louw and Theresa Schoeman

UCT Libraries Special Collections, Theresa Schoeman

UCT Departments
Faculty of Law, Law Library Committee and UCT Libraries