n Law, Democracy & Development - Socioeconomic Rights in South Africa: Symbols or Substance?, Malcom Langford, Ben Cousins, Jackie Dugard and Tshepo Madingozi (Eds.) : book review

Volume 19, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1028-1053
  • E-ISSN: 2077-4907



The publication of this book comes two decades after South Africa became a democratic state. It could not have come at a better time as it provides the authors with a good opportunity to assess the benefits or otherwise of the inclusion of socioeconomic rights in the Constitution. The chapters of this book are written by academics, experts and civil society organizations. In the introductory chapter of the book Malcom Langford observes that South Africa presents an interesting paradox with regard to the realisation of socioeconomic rights. While on one hand, the country has explicitly guaranteed socioeconomic rights in the Constitution, enacted pieces of legislation to give bite to these rights, and courts have developed a rich jurisprudence to clarify the content of these rights, on the other hand, these developments have not in any way transformed into better living conditions for the people. Indeed, Langford laments that "the failure of South Africa to match the narrative with social transformation in practice has generated a counter-narrative" (page 1). He explains that the main purpose of the book is to "assess one part of the puzzling of the contrasting on South Africa: what has been the role and impact of socioeconomic rights strategies by civil society actors?" (page 1) He observes that one of the critiques of the South African experience is that the landmark cases on socioeconomic rights have not been properly implemented or that the "rights-culture" has impacted negatively on the alternative route for social change. Focusing on the period 2000-2010, the book seeks to unravel how a diverse group of actors, particularly from marginalised and disadvantaged communities and social groups has used the linguistic and strategic resource of socioeconomic rights? Equally the book seeks to assess the direct and indirect impact of rights-based strategies on realising socioeconomic rights in the country.

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