n African Human Rights Law Journal - Judicial enforcement of socio-economic rights in South Africa and the separation of powers objection : the obligation to take 'other measures' : focus : twenty years of the South African Constitution

Volume 14, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 1609-073X
  • E-ISSN: 1996-2096



The framework for constitutional democracy in South Africa assigns to the courts a pivotal role in assuring effective protection and translation of the range of entrenched socio-economic rights into material entitlements. This has enabled the courts in some instances to exercise considerable authority that has significantly influenced policy to the extent that power relations between the judiciary and the political arms of government have been threatened. Proponents of the doctrine of the separation of powers have expressed concerns, claiming that the meddling of the courts in the domain of policy making is politically incorrect. Consequently, the judicial enforcement of socio-economic rights has increasingly suffered setbacks, which to a large extent have retarded the constitutional vision of social transformation. Thus, in spite of South Africa's acclaimed global leadership in the enforcement of socio-economic rights, little has actually been accomplished in terms of improving the livelihood for victims of socio-economic deprivation. Considering that the enforcement of socioeconomic rights is context-specific, I question the rationale for avoiding a 'jurisprudence of exasperation', which demonstrates greater potential to produce transformative outcomes than the preferred 'jurisprudence of accountability' which has shown little transformative effect. Just as the realisation of socio-economic rights through political strategies amounts to material entitlement, I argue that the result of positive adjudication should equally amount to entitlement to the same material things promised by the rights in question. I conclude with the suggestion that the judicial enforcement of socio-economic rights should be seen as a complementary strategy to the political objective of social transformation, rather than as an oppositional force to the proper functioning of government.

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