Authoritarian Constitutionalism – The South African Experience

The history of constitutionalism in South Africa reveals the manner in which law reinforced the governance of the authoritarian regime of Apartheid South Africa, while at the same time created a space for litigation strategies which, at the very least, tempered the excesses of Apartheid rule. The paper shows that the ambiguous history which preceded the introduction of the 1996 Constitution influenced the drafters of the Constitution into a commitment to constitutional as opposed to majoritarian democracy. The paper proceeds to caution against the liberal claim that constitutionalism can be equated democracy .In this way, the authority of the Constitution reduces the potential for other forms of politics. It does so by assuming a position of hegemonic authority ,thereby preventing a debate aimed at the construction of a society which differs from the normative framework as set out in the constitutional text.