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The Ubuntu Project

16 Oct 2008 - 16:30

Ubuntu is short for the African expression umuntu ngumuntu ngobantu, directly translated it means that 'a person is a person through other people'. Professor Drucilla Cornell understands this as a principle of transcendence whereby people can overcome their own selfish interests and create an ethical community.

In 2003-2004 she initiated the Ubuntu Project as a pilot study funded by the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study. The initial research conducted by Professor Cornell involved conducting a series of interviews with people living in the townships around the Western Cape as well as working as a sangoma's assistant. This lead to her organising two conferences to discuss how ubuntu could be 're-constitutionalized'.

In 2005 Professor Chuma Himonga brought her expertise in African customary law to the project when she joined as co-director. In 2007 the Ubuntu Project came under the auspices of the NRF Chair of Customary Law, Indigenous Values and Dignity Jurisprudence. The project aims to conduct research into three main questions:

  1. How has living customary law developed in accordance with the new Constitution?
  2. What role do ideals and values such as uBuntu play in the development of this law?
  3. How have people used the principles and values of uBuntu in the face of the brutalities of apartheid?

As part of the project there have been a number of interesting lectures, seminars and debates taking place. The list of speakers so far has included:

  • Professor Jean Comaroff the Bernard E. & Ellen C. Sunny Distinguished Service Professor of Anthropology and Social Sciences in the College, and in the Clinical Scholars Program at the University of Chicago, USA;
  • former Constitutional Court judge Laurie Ackermann;
  • Professor's Gerhard Lubbe and Andre van der Walt of Stellenbosch University law faculty;
  • Prof Philip Iya of the University of the North West law faculty;
  • the out-going Vice Chancellor of UCT Njabulo Ndebele;
  • Mmatshilo Motsei author of The Kanga and the Kangaroo Court
  • and members of our own Faculty: Prof Danie Visser, Prof Anton Fagan and Dr Jaco Barnard-Naude.

The second semester of 2008 has the following events lined up:

24 July
Kenneth Panfilio - Kenneth Michael Panfilio is an Instructional Assistant Professor at Illinois State University, and recently earned his doctorate from Rutgers University focusing his studies on political theory and global politics. Originally from a suburb near Chicago, Panfilio earned his B.S. and M.S. degrees from Illinois State University with honors. Along with Drucilla Cornell and Roger Berkowitz, Panfilio is a coeditor of an upcoming book series with Fordham University Press titled Just Ideas: Transformative Ideals of Justice in Ethical and Political Thought. Currently, his dissertation is being worked on for a manuscript tentatively titled Inheriting the Legacy of Critique: Dreams of Freedom, Nightmares of Despair. Panfilio is trained broadly in the history of political thought, focusing primarily on German Idealism, as well as dimensions of political anthropology as it relates to comparative politics. Also, Panfilio is a contributing member of The Ubuntu Project which is seeking to better understand the role of indigenous values such as ubuntu in the development of the new South Africa

31 July
Justice Yvonne Mokgoro - title to be announced

4 August
Prof Steven Bronner - "Capitalism and Socio Economic Rights"

6 August
Panel discussion-Economic organization and Socio Economic Rights.
Prof Sampie Terreblanche - University of Stellenbosch
Prof Steven Bronner - Rutgers University
Danie Brand - University of Pretoria

12 August
Justice Kate O'Regan - title to be announced

14 August
Prof Francois de Villiers - title to be announced

27 August
Prof Chuma Himonga -title to be announced

15-18 September
Pluralism Conference

22 September
Costas Douzinas - School of Law, BirkBeck College, Director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities - title to be announced