The tendency for South African equality jurisprudence to reduce equality to a single value, namely dignity, has been much debated, especially around the relationship of dignity to disadvantage. In this article we argue for a multidimensional idea of equality that moves beyond a dignity/disadvantage paradigm to enable a fuller exploration of the complex harms and injuries that underlie equality claims, and greater elucidation of the multiple principles and purposes of equality. In particular, we argue that substantive equality should be understood in terms of a four-dimensional framework, which aims at addressing stigma, stereotyping, prejudice and violence; redressing socio-economic disadvantage; facilitating participation; and valuing and accommodating difference through structural change. We suggest that this enables a better exploration of the different principles that underlie equality and an open discussion of complementarities and tensions between them. We explore the benefits of this approach through an evaluation of three equality cases in which Justice Langa delivered the leading judgments. Although we do not claim that he fully adopted such an approach, we engage Justice Langa's philosophy on equality as it emerges from these judgments, and evaluate the extent to which we can develop from this a more fully-fledged understanding of equality and its underlying values in the South African Constitution.
In KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Education v Pillay, Chief Justice Langa held that it constituted unfair discrimination for a public school to prevent a learner from wearing a nose stud to school, because wearing the stud was a voluntary part of the learner's religion and, more importantly, her culture. In this contribution we consider the limits of this type of cultural accommodation after Pillay by focusing on two questions: What types of beliefs and practices are "cultural"? And how should courts determine the burdens other must bear to accommodate cultural practices? First, we offer preliminary answers to three central questions that Pillay left unanswered: What is a culture? Who qualifies as a member of a culture? How do we determine which practices are part of a culture? Second, we discuss the role and meaning of "reasonable accommodation" and argue that Pillay mistakenly framed it as a balancing test between the interests of the learner and the school. In doing so, it obscured other important factors that should be considered.