LEARN­ING TRI­UMPHS: Suc­cess over ad­ver­sity at

Finweek English Edition - - COLUMN - KADER AS­MAL

THE OTHER DAY I was in­vited to a pre-grad­u­a­tion cer­e­mony at the Univer­sity of the West­ern Cape. That was to mark the suc­cess of law grad­u­ates in Hon­ours, Mas­ters and two very orig­i­nal Doc­tor­ates.

I go to these cer­e­monies to pay my re­spect to young peo­ple who value the at­ten­dance of those who weren’t di­rectly con­nected to their th­e­ses. Apart from cel­e­brat­ing their per­for­mance, there’s an­other rea­son for at­tend­ing: to find out what they’re do­ing and why, es­pe­cially at the Univer­sity of the West­ern Cape, where I taught in the early Nineties. I was sur­prised by the num­ber of Mas­ters stu­dents and the high aca­demic stan­dard they had reached. Par­ents and friends clapped and ul­u­lated in joy.

From 1990 on­wards, UWC was no longer a “bush col­lege”. When many of those in ex­ile de­cided to re­turn home they chose that univer­sity to work at. Then it was de­scribed by its rec­tor as the aca­demic home of the left. In fact, its com­mu­nity law cen­tre made a sig­nal con­tri­bu­tion to the evo­lu­tion of South Africa’s Con­sti­tu­tion, through its as­so­ci­a­tion with the ANC and oth­ers who sought its as­sis­tance.

I was sur­prised by the two young peo­ple who were to be hon­oured for their Doc­tor­ates at the in­for­mal cer­e­mony. Doc­tor­ates are dif­fi­cult to write, as the au­thors must make an orig­i­nal con­tri­bu­tion to learn­ing. It’s lonely work and re­quires an enor­mous amount of time and en­ergy. Many of the stu­dents have to hold down a job to en­able them to man­age the cost of re­search­ing a the­sis. I write this be­cause it isn’t a self-ev­i­dent fact to those out­side uni­ver­si­ties as to what’s en­tailed in com­plet­ing a doc­tor­ate.

The first can­di­date re­flected the fact that UWC can at­tract stu­dents from far afield. He was from Zanz­ibar and his the­sis may ap­pear to be a lit­tle ob­scure but it’s of im­por­tance in eval­u­at­ing Bri­tish colo­nial pol­icy, as he looked mainly at pri­mary ma­te­ri­als and how Bri­tish pol­icy was trans­form­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion of Is­lamic law and its in­sti­tu­tions in the Busa’Idi sul­tanate from 1890 to 1963, the pe­riod of Bri­tish rule.

Ab­dul Kadir’s the­sis was highly praised by the ex­am­in­ers. He came through with fly­ing colours, in part due to the univer­sity’s ex­cep­tional ef­forts at pro­vid­ing him with knowl­edge­able su­per­vi­sors.

The other the­sis was by a South African and re­quires par­tic­u­lar at­ten­tion. Pa­tri­cia Me­naghan’s “The right to free­dom of re­li­gion in the pub­lic do­main in South Africa” ur­gently de­mands a pub­lisher, as it should be com­pul­sory read­ing for ev­ery­one, es­pe­cially those in Gov­ern­ment.

Af­ter read­ing her mon­u­men­tal work ev­ery­one should recog­nise that SA is a sec­u­lar state that doesn’t favour one re­li­gion over an­other. She makes a very ex­cit­ing con­tri­bu­tion by ad­um­brat­ing some cre­ative glosses to that state­ment. “The sep­a­ra­tion of State and re­li­gion,” she says, “ought not to re­sult in free­dom from re­li­gion” where re­li­gion is ac­tively ex­cluded from the pub­lic sphere. Ob­vi­ously, SA qual­i­fies in en­sur­ing re­li­gion to be vis­i­ble in the pub­lic do­main. There may be con­trib­u­tors who may not nec­es­sar­ily agree with such an ap­proach.

She has some in­ter­est­ing ideas on how the quest for shared iden­tity “must be re­placed by prin­ci­ples of hu­man rights, agreed upon by all and not im­posed by a par­tic­u­lar ma­jor­ity cul­ture or mi­nori­ties”.

In a short space of time, our Con­sti­tu­tional Court has had to de­lib­er­ate on a large num­ber of cases – in­clud­ing the at­tack on my de­ci­sion as Min­is­ter of Ed­u­ca­tion to ban cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment in schools. Our high­est court has af­firmed the prin­ci­ple of unity and sol­i­dar­ity, but that – the court has stated – “re­quires not only tol­er­a­tion of dif­fer­ence but in­sti­tu­tional com­mit­ment to­wards ac­com­mo­dat­ing and even cel­e­brat­ing dif­fer­ence”.

Me­naghan has made a sig­nal con­tri­bu­tion to the study of the sen­si­tive topic of re­li­gion and the Con­sti­tu­tion. For that we are in her debt.


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