Minority Protection in Post-Apartheid South Africa: Human Rights, Minority Rights, and Self-Determination

Article excerpt

Kristin Henrard. Minority Protection in Post-Apartheid South Africa: Human Rights, Minority Rights, and Self-Determination. Westport Conn.: Praeger, 2002. xvi + 310 pp. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $ 69.95. Cloth.

One of the most remarkable features of South Africa's postapartheid constitutions is the elaborate accommodation of minority rights, especially with regard to language, religion, customary law, and the right to internal self-determination. Under apartheid, the discourse of group rights and the separate destinies of South Africa's diverse population groups was used as a divide-and-rule ideology to legitimize white domination. In reaction, the African National Congress (ANC) and its allies have emphasized the unitary nature of the South African state and the essential equality of all its citizens, regardless of race or ethnicity.

The ANC's universalist concept of mankind, with its strong emphasis on egalitarianism, left little space for discussion about the status of customary law and chiefs ("feudal relics" and "stooges of apartheid"), the status of Afrikaans ("the language of the oppressor"), or ethnic identities ("false consciousness"). The liberation discourse stressed the concept of nonracialism, not multiracialism. The ANC also was clearly influenced by the ideology of its loyal ally, the South African Communist Party, in which class rather than race or ethnicity was seen as the fundamental organizing principle of society.

Not surprisingly, the principle of equality in all its dimensions was the ANC's overriding concern for the new constitutional dispensation. But the former liberation movement proved amazingly willing to engage in attempts to reconcile the principle of racial, religious, and gender equality with the protection of ethnic and religious minorities. Ethnic minorities were irredeemably burdened by the apartheid legacy, but since their rebirth as cultural communities they have received a fairly generous deal. Customary law has been recognized (including polygamous marriages), chiefs have retained their official status and improved their salaries and stature, eleven South African languages have been recognized as official languages, and efforts have been made to accommodate Muslim personal law.

Minonty Protection in Post-Apartheid South Africa explores the intriguing question of how to undo minority rule while protecting minority interests. Henrard describes in considerable detail the relevant sections of the 1993 interim constitution and the-slightly less generous-final constitution of 1996. …