Have empathy, that’s what you can do for constitutional democracy – Kate O’Regan

2015-09-08 17:20

Constitutional democracy will only work if South Africans start to put themselves into the shoes of people who don’t look like them.

Former Constitutional Court judge Kate O’Regan said this last night at the National Library in answer to the question: “Is South Africa’s Constitution a paper tiger?”

“The Constitution reminds us all the time to have the imagination to put ourselves in the shoes of other South Africans. If we lose the ability to imagine what South Africans might want and what other South Africans might need this project will never work.”

“It can’t be a project about me, it’s got to be a project about us. Each morning we need to think about what people that don’t look like or that have never had my life experience might want or need from this constitutional order … so we can make this a community of people who really feel like a community,” said O’Regan to applause from the audience.

O’Regan delivered the public lecture, which was hosted by the Centre for Conflict Resolution, with Professor Pierre de Vos, the Claude Leon Foundation chair in constitutional governance at the University of Cape Town.

Both De Vos and O’Regan said there was sometimes a propensity for South Africans to think that the Constitution just created duties for the government, but that it was also applicable to ordinary South Africans.

O’Regan said the country’s solid constitutional text, history of civic struggle and current civic activism all meant South Africa’s constitution was not a paper tiger but also said that “people who live comfortable lives need to recognise their needs to be change for people who are not living comfortable lives.”

She said addressing South Africa’s deeply unjust history would never be an easy task but said we were not alone in this.

“If Martin Luther King were here today he would tell you social justice and equality remains elusive for descendants of African slaves in the US but he would add, as he told his followers so memorably in the 1960s, freedom does not come riding in on the wheels of inevitability, we must roll up our sleeves and work for it.

“What this means is that constitutionalists can never rest. Whether our Constitution will be a good and strong constitution and whether its vision will be realised will not depend on whether it is a paper tiger, but whether we are up to the challenge. 
Read more on:    constitution

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