Zakeera Docrat – The Company We Keep


  by QW+ staff writer

Zakeera Docrat – The Company We Keep

Zakeera Docrat is a postdoctoral research fellow in forensic linguistics at the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences, University of the Western Cape. Her research works to improve access to justice and to ensure justice is attainable for speakers of all 12 official languages. It spans humanities, law and social sciences. She is a member of the Quote This Woman+ database.

Pronouns: She/her

Born: 7 February 1991

Status: Single

School: Diocesan School for Girls (Grahamstown)

University: Rhodes University

First job: This one: as Postdoctoral Research Fellow. I followed the academic path of doing one degree after another until all five were complete!

Home: Makhanda (Grahamstown), Eastern Cape

Transport: My own vehicle.

Book on your bedside table: I’m an academic who reads and writes for a living. I am always exhausted by the time I get to bed and I use those few minutes before sleeping to plan what I need to do the next day or watch a series. So to answer the question, there is no book on my bedside table at the moment!

Music in your playlist: This changes with my mood and the achievements and challenges I face on any specific day of the week. These are the favourites I keep coming back to to lift up my spirits or provide a sense of calmness at the end of a difficult day. 

Describe your job: Life changing, groundbreaking, exhilarating, challenging, emotionally draining, stressful: all in one week.  The best part is knowing that when it’s implemented, my research has the potential to improve the legal system and assist my fellow citizens. Even if it only ever impacts one person positively, I think I have achieved something worthwhile.

What keeps you awake at night? Our research is overlooked in favour of an English-only legal system. I worry about the many victims of crimes who come up against a language barrier in the justice system and as a result are unable to access justice or to justice delivered to them.

Who is your biggest hero? Any person who makes a difference to society to improve the lives of others. The people who do good not for the benefit of themselves or for publicity purposes. If I had to choose only one though, for me personally it would be my Mom. She has made so many sacrifices, (in fact she still does) to get me to this point in my life. She has this deep sense of empathy and an unwavering dedication to assisting others.

Remote or office? Remote

What’s the most exciting part of your job? I learn something new each time I take on a new research project. And to be very honest: the excitement of a publication, knowing how much time, effort and dedication it takes to produce a publication. I love being able to travel to conferences: to explore new things, new cultures, new languages, share my research, network and learn from others. It’s an honour to present on an international stage and extremely exciting.

Career highlight? My Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) Women in Science Award, in the humanities and social sciences category. I was a PhD student at the time. It was extremely humbling and encouraging to be honoured and for my work to have been recognised at that level. My PhD was both a personal and academic highlight for me;  it has been one of my greatest accomplishments. I think the passion (for my discipline and the topic) with which I wrote the thesis is evident from the first chapter. The publication of my book, A handbook on Legal Languages and the quest for linguistic equality in South Africa and beyond, was another wonderful highlight for me. A dream really!

What is your superpower? Being exceptionally resilient!

What is the least known fact about you? I am a former provincial squash player.

If you could get the ear of one person, to convince them your work is important, who would it be? Our President

If you had the power to pass a presidential decree, what would it be? Declare the equal use of our eleven official languages, on a provincial basis, in the legal (criminal and civil) system and profession – and this includes the South African Police Service.

Your best piece of advice? Celebrate all your achievements and wins, no matter how small or how great.

What’s your next big thing? I’m chairing  the next conference of the International Association of Forensic and Legal Linguistics (IAFLL) This is the first time in the history of the IAFLL that the conference will be hosted in South Africa and on the African continent. I believe the work of this conference will change the course of forensic linguistics on the continent for the better – in terms of improving access to justice for African language speakers.

What do you do to relax? Bake. I come from a long line of wonderful cooks – my mom is a cook-book author. There are always happy moments when we are together in the kitchen cooking and baking up a feast. Watching sports (anything from women’s cricket to rugby and squash).