Twenty Years of South African Constitutionalism
Constitutional Rights, Judicial Independence and the Transition to Democracy
Friday, November 14, 2014 – Sunday, November 16, 2014
New York Law School
185 West Broadway
New York, New York 10013
The New York Law School Law Review
NYLS Impact Center for Public Interest Law – South Africa and the Rule of Law Project
NYLS Center for International Law
South Africa Reading Group
Follow the conversation on Twitter at #NYLSSouthAfrica
See the related Visual Scholarship videos here.
Information about the related Law Review issue is available here.
Photos from the event are available here.
South African constitutionalism has much to celebrate after its first twenty years, but also faces acute and disturbing challenges. We sought to understand both the achievements of past years and the difficulties that have emerged along the way. We explored, as intensively as possible, the question of law’s capacity to contribute to building an egalitarian, free society in South Africa – and by implication elsewhere.
This symposium sought to generate an interdisciplinary encounter that is both wide-ranging and firmly focused on the persistent question of what law can accomplish and how. By bringing together a specially strong and diverse group of participants, for a sustained inquiry in large settings and small ones, formal and informal, over four days together, we believe that this symposium will generated an ongoing conversation about law’s connection to transformation that will be rich both intellectually and practically.
We sought to address questions of both theory and action, by bringing together insights from four broad perspectives:
- constitutional law: to take full account of the jurisprudential challenges of developing legal doctrine, particularly doctrine for a new constitutional order
- law and society: to look closely at the roots of legal thought in social settings and the impact of law on social action
- legal education, in particular clinical and experiential legal education: to consider the ways that the training of future lawyers can contribute to shaping the legal order
- public interest law practice: to bring to each conversation the experience of actual law reform efforts, and to connect the perspectives of scholars and educators with the insights of those in action “on the ground”
We hope this symposium was an occasion for South African scholars, teachers and lawyers to step back and reflect on the complex events of their own country. We see this reflection taking place in dialogue with colleagues, Americans and others, who study South Africa from elsewhere. We also see it being enriched by engagement with colleagues whose principal focus is not on South Africa but on other countries, countries whose experience will shed light on the challenges and possibilities in South Africa.
We also see this symposium as a catalyst to renewed attention to South Africa here in the United States. We hope that this rekindling of interest will have potential benefits for South Africa, and Africa as well; we are confident it will also make a difference in the United States. South African constitutional law addresses the same sorts of issues as American constitutional law – but in even more complex and difficult circumstances – and American scholars, lawyers and law students can learn from South African efforts to achieve full freedom and equality. We hope, therefore, that this symposium served as a starting point for further teaching at U.S. schools about law in South Africa, and that it will stimulate interest by American scholars and students in seeing and experiencing South African law and society themselves.