Professor Catherine Smith was a senior lecturer in Unisa’s law department from 1968 and became South Africa’s first woman law professor when she was named Professor of Mercantile Law at Unisa in 1974.


Professor Smith matriculated from Pretoria Girls’ High School and obtained an LLB degree with distinction in 1950. She became an attorney in 1952, later serving as the first female partner at a leading law firm in her native Pretoria. She was nominated as one of the 21 Women of the Year in 1974, spending the subsequent year addressing meetings on various aspects of the law as it affected women. Described as a “formidable figure”, Smith authored the seminal Law of Insolvency (1973) and contributed regularly to The Law of South Africa encyclopaedia. In 1976, when the credit card industry was in its infancy, she famously observed, “A credit card enables a person to buy goods he does not need, from a person he does not know, on conditions he does not understand, with money he does not have.”