|ISU politics professor takes his knowledge abroad|
|Written by Kristen Bahler, Daily Vidette Reporter|
|Wednesday, 18 February 2009 18:00|
There are few cultures that vary to the extent of South Africa and the United States.
The very notion of the two countries are almost polar opposites, one evokes sparring images of unmatched geographical beauty and profound poverty, while the other denotes industry and (in many cases) monotony.
Kenneth Panfilio, an ISU political science professor, spends his summer breaks structuring a bond between these two very different worlds, in an endeavor called the Ubuntu Project.
As key contributing members to the Ubuntu project (Ubuntu is a Zulu phrase signifying humanity between a people, the Ubuntu Project is based out of the University of Cape Town), Panfilio and his PhD advisor, Professor Drucilla Cornell, worked with South African courts and judges.
"We had countless dialogues and meetings," Panfilio said. "The court has acknowledged this project as one of the most influential projects in South Africa . it is changing the way they do law in South Africa."
According to Panfilio, one of the goals of Ubuntu is to mold indigenous and Western thinking into a common ideal.
"We had to bring together these two groups, Western and Indigenous, and work to enhance one another. There was resistance at first," he said. "I think the question was, how do you operationalize an indigenous ideal? How can we start to bring indigenous ideals into [the concept of] Ubuntu?"
At the core of the Ubuntu Project is a federally funded enterprise, which embarks on giving black South Africans equal opportunity to study law as the white minority.
"Last year there was one black South African in the University of Cape Town law school," Panfilio said. "We're doing a lot to support students and to bring extraordinarily capable South Africans into advanced law studies . to be part of the future of South African Law."
Though South African government has been (appropriately) regarded for decades as equal parts disadvantaged and deceitful, Panfilio believes the Unites States has much to learn from modern day South Africa.
"South Africa coming into the new South Africa after apartheid has one of the most sophisticated constitutions in the world, which is based largely on the best of European ideals, and centers on the fact that the state can't take away [one's] dignity." Those even slightly familiar with the U.S. constitution can acknowledge this is one element our founding fathers decided to skip over.
"[The South African] constitution is a lot different than ours," Panfilio said. "Others try to conserve a vision of the past, and this is not the case in South Africa. If you were to conserve a vision of the past, you'd be conserving the idea of apartheid. South Africa is one of the first countries to allow gay marriage, they believe that equality means you are allowed to get married."
Panfilio added when he arrives in South Africa, the first thought that goes through his mind is not one of American superiority, but quite the opposite.
"When I arrive in South Africa routinely, I say with all seriousness and a little bit of joking . that it's a joy to come from the constitutional third world. [In South Africa] there is a sort of pluralism between two groups that doesn't favor one group over another. We have [a lot] to learn constitutionally from a place like South Africa," Panfilio said.
According to former student Andrew Barra, a senior broadcast journalism major, Panfilio's forward thinking and progressive ideals directly translate to his classroom approach.
"Dr. Panfilio expected [us] to look beyond .our actual readings by answering not only what each meant but what is its relation to us and the world. From what I got out of class, it's easy to tell that Dr. Panfilio is not like what you see common in the current culture. He tries to find deeper happiness and deeper meaning .I was a big fan. He made class very interesting."
Panfilio said, "I went over there with the full-fledged position that I know nothing of the culture or the history surround it . I am here to learn. I think it is important as a faculty member to actively enhance the world to a better state of existence, not just teach what is in my textbook."