Professor compares impact of King, Ghandhi, Mandela

By Jo mathis

Legal News

It was a wonderful coincidence of history that the second inauguration of President Barack Obama occurred on the day the country honors Martin Luther King Jr, a South African law professor told a crowd at Michigan Law School on January 21st.

''The symbolism and message of today will journey well beyond the borders of this country and give hope to millions of people around the world who seek justice and respect for fundamental human rights,'' said Karthigasen Govender, a law professor at the University of Kwazulu-Natal in South Africa, who spoke Monday at Michigan Law School's MLK Day.

In his talk titled, ''The Influence of Dr. King's Legacy on South Africa's Vision to Create a Society that Respects Fundamental Human Rights,'' Govender said speeches on MLK Day acknowledge that King paid with his life for his adherence to principle. But they should do more than that, he said.

''It is an opportunity to evaluate how far society has progressed towards the realization of his vision,'' he said, ''and what needs to be done to complete the journey and finally, to recommit ourselves to the attainment of a more caring and equal society.''

Govender, who teaches Constitutionalism in South Africa at Michigan Law School each winter, considered the similarities and differences between King, Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. He noted they were highly mimetic, meaning they were mythically and socially superior to the masses.

Noting that Gandhi's writing heavily influenced King, Govender said that Gandhi's political awakening began in South Africa when he was forced to confront racial prejudice after being thrown off a train because he wasn't white.

Govender compared the relationship between the American civil rights movement and the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa.

''Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,'' Govender quoted King in a letter the civil rights leader wrote from an Alabama jail in April of 1963. ''Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor, it must be demanded by the oppressed.''

Apartheid was not simply the separate development of people, but was premised on the superiority of whites and inferiority of blacks, Govender said.

He noted that despite the progress made in South Africa, there is still poverty and inequality, and not enough improvement in education.

Unlike Mandela, neither Gandhi nor King held high public office, which is vastly different from being an activist, and brings different challenges, he said.

Mandela admitted that he should have tackled the HIV/AIDS pandemic earlier and more aggressively, and more should have been done to deliver on the reconstruction and development program, Govender said.

Decades after his death, the legacy of Gandhi is still dominant in many facets of Indian life, Govender said, noting that a similar thing is happening in South Africa, where Mandela led a liberation organization, emerged without rancor after 27 years in prison, and ruled as a national reconciler in the best interest of all.

Govender served two terms as a commissioner on the South Africa Human Rights Commission and has served as an acting judge on South Africa's High Court.

He said Gandhi, King, and Mandela would applaud some of the gains made in South Africa, particularly those regarding civil and political rights, but would regret that there was still so much to do to impact the levels of poverty and inequality.

Following his talk, Govender answered questions from the audience and then greeted guests at a reception.

Published: Thu, Jan 31, 2013


  1. No comments
Sign in to post a comment »