Areas of Law and Guides
The Constitution of South Africa is the supreme law of the country of South Africa. It provides the legal foundation for the existence of the republic, sets out the rights and duties of its citizens, and defines the structure of the government. The current constitution, the country's fifth, was drawn up by the Parliament elected in 1994 in the first non-racial elections. It was promulgated by President Nelson Mandela on 18th December 1996 and came into effect on 4 February 1997, replacing the Interim Constitution of 1993.
Since 1996, the Constitution has been amended by seventeen amendment acts. The Constitution is formally entitled the "Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996." It was previously also numbered as if it were an Act of Parliament—Act No. 108 of 1996—but, since the passage of the Citation of Constitutional Laws Act,neither it nor the acts amending it are allocated act numbers.
An integral part of the negotiations to end apartheid in South Africa was the creation of a new, non-discriminatory constitution (Tswana, Sotho, Northern Sotho: molaotheo; Afrikaans: grondwet; Zulu, Southern Ndebele: umthethosisekelo; Xhosa: umgaqo-siseko; Swazi: umtsetfosisekelo; Venda: vumbiwa; Tsonga: ndayotewa) for the country. One of the major disputed issues was the process by which such a constitution would be adopted. The African National Congress (ANC) insisted that it should be drawn up by a democratically-elected constituent assembly, while the governing National Party (NP) feared that the rights of minorities would not be protected in such a process, and proposed instead that the constitution be negotiated by consensus between the parties and then put to a referendum.
Formal negotiations began in December 1991 at the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA). The parties agreed on a process whereby a negotiated transitional constitution would provide for an elected constitutional assembly to draw up a permanent constitution. The CODESA negotiations broke down, however, after the second plenary session in May 1992. One of the major points of dispute was the size of the supermajority that would be required for the assembly to adopt the constitution: The NP wanted a 75 per cent requirement, which would effectively have given it a veto.
In April 1993, the parties returned to negotiations, in what was known as the Multi-Party Negotiating Process (MPNP). A committee of the MPNP proposed the development of a collection of "constitutional principles" with which the final constitution would have to comply, so that basic freedoms would be ensured and minority rights protected, without overly limiting the role of the elected constitutional assembly. The parties to the MPNP adopted this idea and proceeded to draft the Interim Constitution of 1993, which was formally enacted by Parliament and came into force on 27 April 1994.
The Interim Constitution provided for a Parliament made up of two houses: a 400-member National Assembly, directly elected by party-list proportional representation, and a ninety-member senate, in which each of the nine provinces was represented by ten senators, elected by the provincial legislature. The Constitutional Assembly consisted of both houses sitting together, and was responsible for drawing up a final constitution within two years. The adoption of a new constitutional text required a two-thirds supermajority in the Constitutional Assembly, as well as the support of two-thirds of senators on matters relating to provincial government. If a two-thirds majority could not be obtained, a constitutional text could be adopted by a simple majority and then put to a national referendum in which sixty per cent support would be required for it to pass.
The Interim Constitution contained 34 constitutional principles with which the new constitution was required to comply. These included multi-party democracy with regular elections and universal adult suffrage, supremacy of the constitution over all other law, a quasi-federal system in place of centralised government, non-racism and non-sexism, the protection of "all universally accepted fundamental rights, freedoms and civil liberties," equality before the law, the separation of powers with an impartial judiciary, provincial and local levels of government with democratic representation, and protection of the diversity of languages and cultures. The Bill of Rights, now in Chapter Two of the Constitution of South Africa, was largely written by Kader Asmal and Albie Sachs. The new constitutional text was to be tested against these principles by the newly established Constitutional Court. If the text complied with the principles, it would become the new constitution; if it did not, it would be referred back to the Constitutional Assembly.
The Constitutional Assembly engaged in a massive public participation programme to solicit views and suggestions from the public. As the deadline for the adoption of a constitutional text approached, however, many issues were hashed out in private meetings between the parties' representatives. On 8 May 1996, a new text was adopted with the support of 86 per cent of the members of the assembly, but in the First Certification judgment, delivered on 6 September 1996, the Constitutional Court refused to certify this text. The Constitutional Court identified a number of provisions that did not comply with the constitutional principles. Areas of non-compliance included failures to protect the right of employees to engage in collective bargaining; to provide for the constitutional review of ordinary statutes; to entrench fundamental rights, freedoms and civil liberties and to sufficiently safeguard the independence of the Public Protector and Auditor-General as well as other areas of non-compliance in relation to local government responsibilities and powers.
The Constitutional Assembly reconvened and, on 11 October, adopted an amended constitutional text containing many changes relative to the previous text. Some dealt with the court's reasons for non-certification, while others tightened up the text. The amended text was returned to the Constitutional Court to be certified, which the court duly did in its Second Certification judgment, delivered on 4 December. The Constitution was signed by President Mandela on 10 December and officially published in the Government Gazette on 18 December. It did not come into force immediately; it was brought into operation on 4 February 1997, by a presidential proclamation, except for some financial provisions which were delayed until 1 January 1998.
Since its adoption, the Constitution has been amended seventeen times.
Most recent Constitutional Law Articles posted
SA should protect the independence of the Reserve Bank and must evaluate what effect the recommendations of the Public Protector to alter its mandate will have on the institution, Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba says, according to a BusinessLIVE report. ‘I respect the right of the Public Protector to make whatever determination but I also support fully the independence of the South African Reserve Bank,’ Gigaba said a Bloomberg Television interview in London.
Allegations of sexual assault can be pursued at any time and are no longer restricted to 20 years‚ the Gauteng High Court (Johannesburg) ruled yesterday, according to a TimesLIVE report. Eight alleged victims of the late philanthropist Sidney Frankel‚ who accused him of assaulting them when they were children‚ have won their case to change the law that limited sexual offences other than rape to a prescription period of 20 years.
The City of Johannesburg will not be able to meet the Constitutional Court’s requirement to provide alternative accommodation to people evicted from illegally occupied buildings, because it simply does not have enough space. According to a Mail & Guardian Online report, Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba said: ‘At the moment, we don’t have the capacity to accommodate people who would still be evicted.’
The Legal Resources Centre has welcomed a Constitutional Court judgment which has implications for the conduct of courts in future evictions of occupiers, says a TimesLIVE report. The centre represented the Poor Flat Dwellers Association‚ a non-profit organisation formed in 2009 to resist the exploitation of flat dwellers‚ as a friend of the court in the case in which the Constitutional Court held that courts have an obligation to consider all relevant considerations before ordering an eviction‚ in cases where an unlawful occupier has apparently consented to his removal.
Courts have an obligation to consider all relevant considerations before ordering an eviction‚ in cases where an unlawful occupier has purportedly consented to his removal. The Constitutional Court made this finding yesterday as it rescinded a 2013 order made by the High Court evicting 184 occupiers from a block of flats in Johannesburg. The decision has been described as momentous by the Socio-Economic Rights Institute (Seri)‚ which represented the occupiers, notes a TimesLIVE report.
The SCA, which is wrestling with an appeal against a Gauteng High Court (Pretoria) ruling in favour of bail for Chris Hani’s killer Janusz Walus, was told yesterday Walus had been stripped of his SA citizenship. ‘Representatives of the Department of Home Affairs confirmed it,’ Advocate Roelof du Plessis SC told Judges Christiaan van der Merwe, Jeremiah Shongwe, Mandisa Maya, Boissie Mbha and Ashton Schippers.
The question of whether the Minister of Police can be held vicariously liable for a reservist in uniform who shot his girlfriend at dinner is to be heard by the Constitutional Court in August, according to a TimesLIVE report. Twice before the court has dealt with police criminality. In 2005 it held that the Minister was vicariously liable for the actions of three on-duty policemen who raped a stranded 20-year-old woman. And in 2011 the Minister was held vicariously liable for damages after the brutal rape of a 13-year-old by a policeman on standby duty.
The Constitutional Court was asked yesterday to confirm the Gauteng High Court (Pretoria) order last year that a new owner cannot be held liable for the water‚ rates and lights debts of the old owner or owners, notes a TimesLIVE report. The Tshwane and Ekurhuleni municipalities argue that the municipal debts belong to the property and municipalities can sell a house to recover the debt dating back up to 30 years.
The alleged sexual assault victims of the late philanthropist and stockbroker Sidney Frankel had their dignity violated by a section in the Criminal Procedure Act which prevents their complaints from being prosecuted after 20 years of the event. According to a TimesLIVE report, this is the view of Anton Katz SC‚ counsel for eight people who claim Frankel sexually assaulted them when they were between seven and 15 during the 1970s and 1980s.
The Constitutional Court reserved judgment last week in a confirmation hearing on the Limpopo High Court’s decision in the matter of Ramuhovhi and Another v The President of the Republic of SA. A Fin24 report says his case concerns the validity of section 7(1) of the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act (RCMA). Section 7(1) of the RCMA regulates the proprietary consequences of polygynous marriages entered before the Act came into force in November 2000.
If one majority religion is practised in school assemblies‚ then any pupil who asks to miss the assembly is forced to say they are different. Advocate Johan du Toit SC was pressed on this in the Gauteng High Court (Johannesburg) as he defended six Afrikaans schools’ right to promote a Christian ethos‚ including Bible readings, at assembly, notes a TimesLIVE report.
The Constitutional Court has declared 15 May as the day it will hear the application by opposition parties UDM and the EFF to compel a parliamentary vote of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma to be conducted by secret ballot, says a BusinessLIVE report. Zuma has opposed the application‚ saying a ruling by the court to effectively force Speaker Baleka Mbete to allow MPs to vote in secret would subvert the rights of the ANC in Parliament.
The new land reform provisions contained in the Regulation of Agricultural Land Holdings Bill render the Bill unconstitutional and make it an exercise in redistribution rather than restitution as required by the Constitution, says the Free Market Foundation (FMF). In a statement yesterday, recorded on the Fin24 site, the Foundation said the Bill demonstrates government’s refusal to consider far more appropriate and effective measures to achieve land reform.
The amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism has launched a constitutional challenge to the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-Related Information Act (Rica), notes Legalbrief. In a report on the Mail & Guardian Online site, the applicant and leading investigative journalist Sam Sole, himself a victim of state eavesdroppers, notes that Rica serves as the basis for the lawful interception of citizens’ communications, ‘but we contend that there are fundamental flaws in the law and that various sections are inconsistent with the Constitution’.
AfriForum and Solidarity have approached the Constitutional Court to appeal against the SCA judgment giving the go-ahead for the University of the Free State to implement its English language policy, Volksblad reports. University spokesperson Lacea Loader said the university’s senior management and lawyers were attending to the filed application for leave to appeal.
In approaching the Constitutional Court on the secret ballot conundrum regarding Parliament’s hearing of a motion of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma, the UDM was attempting to embroil the court in political controversy ‘in a matter that involved a violation of the principle of separation of powers’. That, notes Legalbrief, was the thrust of an affidavit by National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete.
We’ll know today whether National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete will defer to the Constitutional Court – which yesterday granted the UDM its request to hear its arguments for a secret ballot to be used in the motion of no confidence against President Jacob Zuma – or attempt to pre-empt any finding the court may make by insisting the no confidence vote is held on Tuesday as originally scheduled, notes Legalbrief.
The President was elected in the National Assembly by way of a secret ballot and so should be removed in the same way, United Democratic Movement (UDM) leader Bantu Holomisa said in an affidavit filed in the Constitutional Court yesterday. A Business Day report notes the UDM has approached the court on an urgent basis in a bid to have the motion of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma to be held on 18 April decided through a secret ballot.
The NPA and murder accused Henri van Breda have applied to the SCA and the Constitutional Court to oppose an order allowing video streaming in a criminal trial, Die Burger reports. Western Cape DPP Rodney de Kock claims in his affidavit that the order of the Western Cape High Court infringes on three fundamental personal rights: the right to privacy, the right to freedom of speech and the right to a fair trial.
‘Can expropriation without compensation or expropriation against low or nominal compensation be justified simply because the expropriation is aimed at a constitutionally legitimate purpose such as land reform?’ In an analysis on the Centre for Constitutional Rights’ website, the centre’s Phephelaphi Dube says this question must be asked following statements by both President Jacob Zuma, as well as the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform, that expropriation without compensation for land reform within the current framework of the property clause is possible.