Human Rights & South African Constitutionalism: An Interdisciplinary Perspective on Debates over the past Twenty Years

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Ufahamu: A Journal of African Studies, Volume 38, p.137–153 (2014)



This paper explores three South African debates over the past twenty years to outline an interdisciplinary perspective on South African constitutionalism. Two of these debates were set firmly within law, the third less so. The first two debates took place within the explicit formal framework of administrative law, although the application of that very framework was part of the contest in both. The third debate, regarding the {HIV}/{AIDS} epidemic, is widely recognized to have both legal dimensions and dimensions beyond the law. Within the framework of socioeconomic rights, all three debates provide some content to a South African tradition of constitutional and deliberative democracy. Part of the intention in this effort is to consider the possibility of reaching out to other disciplines and scholars beyond those identified within the doctrinal legal community to creatively understand South Africa’s continually forming and reforming constitutional tradition. Another purpose is to pose the question of whether there is enough distance, after twenty years of constitutional democracy, to gain some purchase on current constitutional debates by exploring past ones in their historical context.

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