Dr Ayesha Omar

Political theory lecturer, University of Johannesburg

The students taught by Dr Ayesha Omar at the University of Johannesburg say she is the reason why they have developed a passion for political thought. She has opened their minds and given them a deeper insight into black radicalism, philosophy and comparative thought.

“She breaks the boundaries of the glass ceiling every day and, more importantly, is inspiring a generation to do the same. South Africa needs more women who teach us to think differently,” her students say. She also has three children, proving that being a mother need not be an impediment to holding a challenging position.

Omar is a political thought lecturer who talks passionately about her subject. “It interrogates some of our most fundamental ethical questions in society: what is justice, what is freedom, who should rule and why they should rule, and it elucidates important contemporary debates in politics and helps us understand the way certain political institutions and practices are justified,” she says. “As a young person I’m committed to teaching and enabling my students and helping them understand these ideas. I ask meta-questions, such as ‘what is a state and why do we have one?’.”
Omar entered the field because she had always found research to be extremely stimulating, as it makes you engage with ideas. “I find teaching incredibly rewarding because of the manner in which the students engage with you and how we can use political theory to understand ideas and help to facilitate a more just world.”

Although her expertise could take her to a lecturing position overseas, she plans to stay in South Africa to contribute to the country. “I believe it’s imperative for young people to give back to society, and one of the most powerful ways is through a commitment to education to help students think intelligently. They are confronted with all these issues in society and part of the job of a university is to help students think through and unpack issues,” she says.

She holds a BA, an honours in political science, a master’s in political theory, and a PhD. She is now expanding her PhD thesis on the political thought of the historic philosophers Ibn Rushd and Marsilius of Padua into a book. After that, her medium-term goal is to become a professor.

— Lesley Stones

Twitter: @AyeshaOmarSA