‘… in the new South Africa there is nobody, not even the president, who is above the law; that the rule of law generally, and in particular the independence of the judiciary, should be respected . ‘ – Nelson Mandela
In late 1996, South Africa’s Constitution acquired the force of law. Its Bill of Rights enshrined a range of fundamental rights to which all South Africans are entitled. In a marked breach with the past, citizens’ rights would no longer depend upon the pigment of their skin or other idiosyncratic features.
Today, 21 years since its inception, the Constitution has acquired an almost mythical status, both at home and abroad. Yet, crucially, its primary impact has been on the nuts and bolts of people’s lives. It means that the death penalty is no longer a sentencing option, and gays and lesbians can get married and adopt. It affects directly the types of contracts and commercial arrangements the courts will countenance and on people’s rights to land. As such, it impacts on each and every South African’s daily life and shapes the country and society we live in.
This collection of essays explores what the Constitution means for South Africans and for the world – both through its definition of legal rights and through the seepage into the real world of those rights, and the culture that has arisen around them. The contributors range from former Constitutional Court judges to activists, writers and philosophers, who look soberly at what has been achieved and what still needs to be done.