Academic journal article McGill Law Journal

South Africa: A Diceyan Rechtsstaat?

Academic journal article McGill Law Journal

South Africa: A Diceyan Rechtsstaat?

Article excerpt

South Africa's transformation to constitutionalism in 1994 saw the addition to a mixed legal system of a supreme constitution that requires all law to conform to its provisions, principles, and values. This new constitutional design was developed for the circumstances and modeled on existing liberal democratic constitutions, the most influential of which were Canadian and German.

Adopted in 1993, the first constitution introduced the notion of the "constitutional state" but being only a transitional document, it provided for the creation of a "final" constitution crafted in conformity with prescribed principles. The final constitution, adopted in 1996, made no mention of the "constitutional state", including instead the expression "rule of law". Since the constitutional principles laid down in 1993 referred to neither the German "Rechtsstaat", nor Diceyan "rule of law", the replacement of the former term by the latter was permissible.

The two constitutional texts did not, however, elaborate on these two terms. It was left to constitutional interpreters, especially the judiciary, to give meaning to these historically disconnected but conceptually related ideas. The result was a completely novel and pervasive constitutional doctrine. The judicial process of merging these notions may be described as "comparison by global assimilation".

La transformation de l'Afrique du Sud vers le constitutionnalisme en 1994 a vu s'ajouter, a un systeme juridique mixte, une constitution supreme exigeant la conformite de toutes lois a ses dispositions, principes et valeurs. Cette nouvelle organisation constitutionnelle a ete concue en fonction du contexte et inspiree des constitutions democratiques liberales existantes, les plus influentes etant celles du Canada et de l'Allemagne.

Adoptee en 1993, la premiere constitution introduit la notion d'<< Etat constitutionnel>>, mais elle n'etait qu'un document de transition, qui prevoyait la creation d'une constitution finale, redigee en conformite avec les principes prescrits. La constitution finale, adoptee en 1996, ne faisait aucune mention de l'<< Etat constitutionnel>>, incluant plutot l'expression << primaute du droit >>. Puisque les principes constitutionnels etablis en 1993 ne font reference ni au << Rechtsstaat >> allemand ni a la << primaute du droit >> de Dicey, le remplacement du premier terme par le second etait acceptable. Les deux textes constitutionnels n'ont cependant pas precise le sens de ces deux termes.

Les interpretes de la constitution, particulierement le judiciaire, durent donner un sens a ces idees conceptuellement liees, mais historiquement eloignees. Le resultat fut une doctrine constitutionnelle completement nouvelle et omnipresente. Le processus judiciaire fusionnant ces concepts peut etre decrit comme une << comparaison par assimilation globale >>.


  I. The Historical Mixedness of South African
     Constitutional Law

 II. The Journey to a Rechtsstaat and the Rule of Law
     A. The Original (Non-South African Roots)
     B. Pre-constitutional South African Notions
     C. The South African Constitution: Robert von Mohl
        or Albert Venn Dicey?

III. The Judicial Construction of a Constitutional State
     A. Supremacy of the Constitution
     B. Independence of the Judiciary
     C. Separation of Powers
     D. Legal Justification of Government Action
     E. Duty of the State to Protect Fundamental Rights
     F. Legal Certainty
     G. Democracy
     H. Rule of Law
     I. Specific Legal Principles
     J. Objective Normative System of Values

Conclusion: Comparison by Global Assimilation


South Africa's transformation to constitutionalism in 1994 was characterized by the addition of a supreme constitution to the already mixed system containing indigenous, common law, and civil law elements. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.