This is the first issue of a special two-issue edition of Law, Democracy & Development featuring the papers that formed part of a research project focusing on the implications of the socio-economic rights in the Constitution for social change in South Africa.
The drafters of the Constitution clearly envisaged a far-reaching role for it in the transformation of post-apartheid society. Among the key aims of the Constitution is to "improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person". This constitutional concern with the socio-economic well being of people is especially evident in the entrenchment of a wide range of justifiable socio-economic rights in the Bill of Rights.
The South African Constitution has been hailed as one of the best statements of comprehensive citizenship rights in a participatory, pluralist democratic framework. Numerous policies and legislation have been developed that purport to give effect to the Constitutional obligations. Yet, eight years down the track of reconstruction and development, it is unclear how effective policy practices have been in implementing the laudable national development objectives embedded in the Constitution.
Decades of apartheid denied the majority of South Africans human dignity and access to basic social and economic services. The legacy of poverty and inequality remains a major challenge for the country. Government's commitment to redressing the high levels of inequity and social injustice is enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa with explicit provisions for socio-economic rights. Chapter 2 of the Constitution more specifically, sections 26, 27 and 28 - imposes obligations on all spheres of government to progressively realise socio-economic rights.
One of the ANCs key election promises during the run-up to the 1994 election was 'homes for all'. This promise subsequently formed the basis of the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) in terms of which the South African government committed itself to delivering free low-cost housing to those who could not afford to purchase or build their own homes.
Dispossession and forced removal of people under colonialism and apartheid resulted not only in the physical separation of people along racial lines, but also in extreme land shortages and insecurity of tenure for much of the population. With the transition to democracy, expectations were high that a democratic government would effect a fundamental transformation of property rights that would address the history of dispossession and lay the foundations for the social and economic upliftment of the rural and urban poor. South Africa's 1996 Constitution, through the 'property clause' (section 25), provides the basis for a comprehensive reform of property relations, albeit within a liberal democratic framework that upholds the rights of all property holders.