n South African Journal on Human Rights - Taming the constitution : rights and reform in the South African education system

Volume 20, Issue 3
  • ISSN : 0258-7203



Rights are social conventions. Social actors appropriate and mould them to serve particular social purposes. One purpose which rights can serve is the buttressing of politically motivated claims about the just distribution of resources. This article analyses the manner in which rights have been moulded to serve a range of political purposes in South Africa's recent education funding reform process. After a detailed analysis of South Africa's education funding regime, the article argues that rights have been used (with some success) to criticise and effect reform in that regime. However, since invoking the right to a basic education seems to have held a merely instrumental appeal to reform advocates, the state has been able to reinterpret the same right to justify its own incremental, budget-friendly reform proposals in the face of trenchant criticism. The article concludes by suggesting that a progressive politics of rights ought to be organised around the idea that rights have intrinsic worth. Instrumental rights claims can result in a near zero-sum game in which social actors simply dress up their embedded interests in the language of rights, without considering what rights actually mean on their own terms.

Loading full text...

Full text loading...


Article metrics loading...


This is a required field
Please enter a valid email address
Approval was a Success
Invalid data
An Error Occurred
Approval was partially successful, following selected items could not be processed due to error