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MLaw Prof's King Holiday Talk to Examine MLK's Influence on South Africa's Constitution

By John Masson
Jan. 15, 2013

Just as Martin Luther King was influenced in the American civil rights movement by people working for peaceful change in far-off corners of the globe, King's teaching has infused ongoing human rights struggles around the world since his death.

MLKSo it's fitting that Michigan Law's 2013 celebration of MLK Day features Prof. Karthy Govender, a law professor at the University of Kwazulu-Natal in South Africa.

Prof. Govender's talk, slated for 4 p.m. Jan. 21 in room 250 of Hutchins Hall, will focus on "The Influence of Dr. King's Legacy on South Africa's Vision to Create a Society that Respects Fundamental Human Rights." A reception with light refreshments will follow the program.

"I wanted to look at Dr. King's ideas about creating a more caring society, a society based on equality, which enables people to realize their potential and worth and be productive," Prof. Govender said. "I also wanted to examine how we sought to incorporate some of those ideas into the South African constitution."

Prof. Govender, who teaches Constitutionalism in South Africa at Michigan Law each winter, served two terms as a commissioner on the South Africa Human Rights Commission and has argued before, and served as an acting judge on, South Africa's High Court.

During his MLK Day talk he also hopes to touch on similarities and differences in the philosophies of King and two other human rights titans: Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.

"I want to see how those ideas have played out in the South African legal system, then finally to look at the challenges to incorporating them" into that system, he said.

While the work is not done, he added, it's important to note the "massive strides" societies around the world have taken toward realizing equality and human rights.

"But the thrust of my talk is this idea of creating a caring society, and looking at how South Africa sought to incorporate that idea into its constitution," Prof. Govender said. "They didn't refer to Dr. King by name, but his idea of a caring, egalitarian society is definitely there."

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