Brian Ray: C|M|LAW Fulbright Scholar

Posted 2013-07-12 11:59am

In 2012-13, two C|M|LAW professors – Brian Ray and Milena Sterio – were chosen as Fulbright Scholars. The Fulbright Program provides participants – chosen for their academic merit and leadership potential – with the opportunity to study, teach, conduct research, exchange ideas and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns.

Ray is a visiting scholar and conducting research in South Africa, and shared his experience in this first-person account.

by Brian Ray, C|M|LAW Fulbright Scholar & Fulbright Scholar

“All I want is what they promised me and what their constitution promises me - a house.” 

I was with a team of researchers from the Community Law Centre at the Western Cape (CLC) meeting with Mathilda, a citizen leader in Blikkiesdorp—literally “Tin Town”— a settlement of over 1600 one-room corrugated metal shacks set up by the City of Cape Town in 2007 to temporarily house people relocated from other areas.  Mathilda was referring to the right to access adequate housing in section 26—one of several socio-economic rights in South Africa’s constitution intended to redress the discrimination and deep social inequalities created under apartheid.

During my Fulbright visit to South Africa, I am a visiting scholar at the Socio-Economic Rights and Administrative Justice Research Project at Stellenbosch University (SERAJ) and the CLC.  Both universities are in the Western Cape region of South Africa.  SERAJ works to enhance the responsiveness of the South African legal system to the problems of poverty, administrative injustice and socio-economic vulnerability at both academic and practical levels.  The CLC’s Socio-Economic Rights project promotes the effective implementation, monitoring and enforcement of the socio-economic rights enshrined in the South African Constitution.

My main focus during the grant is conducting research for a book manuscript analyzing the South African Constitutional Court's socio-economic rights cases.  Giving courts the power to enforce rights that promise things like access to housing, health care, education and social security raises difficult theoretical and practical problems.  A court can’t simply order the government to give a house to everyone like Mathilda—and these rights aren’t written to require that.  But a court can intervene in more limited ways, for example to address a clear breakdown in the policymaking process—as there arguably was in Blikkiesdorp, where it’s been over six years since the government promised some people who moved there a permanent house within six months.  I’m analyzing and proposing changes to some of the South African Constitutional Court’s more innovative enforcement approaches that focus on ways courts can make government more responsive in situations like these by requiring consultation and public participation in the development of social welfare policy. 

At SERAJ, I recently presented a public seminar on the book, and I’m working with SERAJ and the CLC on a symposium bringing together academics, civil society organizations, government officials and citizen activists to discuss the Court’s consultation requirements.  During my stay, I’ve also been invited to write one of two lead essays for the Constitutional Court Review analyzing a recent series of housing-rights cases and will present a draft of that paper at a conference in Johannesburg in July.

But it’s not all work and no play.  I’m living in Stellenbosch—a beautiful old town in the middle of wine country—with my wife, Kim, and our four kids, Audrey (11), Iain (eight), Evelyn (six) and Adrian (four).  We’ve been taking full advantage of the fine South African summer and have managed to visit Table Mountain, Boulder's Beach, Shamwari wildlife reserve, Cape Point and the stunning Garden Route.

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