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Constitution of the Republic of South Africa 1996

Category: Legislation
Date: 4 February 1997
Sub Category:Legislation
State/Country:Republic of South Africa
Alternative Names:
  • South African Bill of Rights
  • URL:
    Summary Information:
    The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa ('the Constitution') received assent on 16 December 1996 by the Parliament of South Africa, and commenced on 4 February 1997. The Constitution has a recognised version in each of the 11 official languages of South Africa: Afrikaans, English, isiNdebele, isiXhosa, isiZulu, Sependi, Sesotho, Setswana, SiSwati, Tshivenda and Xitsonga.

    The development of the Constitution was overseen by the Constitutional Assembly, a body made up of members of parliament elected in South Africa's first non-racial election on 27 April 1994. Members of the general public were encouraged to make submissions on the proposed Constitution, which was also required to go through a process of certification by the new Constitutional Court in order to ensure its adherence to agreed constitutional principles (Constitutional Court). It replaced the country's interim Constitution which had received assent on 18 November 1993, and came into effect in 1994.

    The Constitution is the supreme legal document in South Africa. It can only be amended with the support of a two-thirds majority of the National Assembly, as well as at least six provinces of the National Council of Provinces (s 74 Constitution).
    Detailed Information:
    The Constitution contains within it a Bill of Rights (Chapter 2), which includes the following citizenship rights that the state 'must respect, protect, promote and fulfil':

  • Equality, including freedom from unfair discrimination;
  • Freedom of religion, belief and opinion;
  • Freedom of expression;
  • Fair labour practices, including the right to join and form a trade union;
  • Right to an environment 'that is not harmful to their health or well-being; and to have the environment protected, for the benefit of present and future generations through reasonable legislative measures';
  • Access to adequate housing, health care, food, water and social security;
  • Specific children's rights, including that a child may only be detained as a measure of last resort; and
  • Rights relating to the use of language and participation in the cultural life of their choice (Chapter 2, ss 7-39).

    The Constitution sets out the prescribed method for government and the role of the courts, as well as establishing several institutions to 'strengthen constitutional democracy'. These include the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC); the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities; and the Commission for Gender Equality (Chapter 9). When appointing members of the judiciary, one factor that must be taken into account is the 'need for the judiciary to reflect broadly the racial and gender composition of South Africa' (s 174(2)).

    The Constitution recognises the status and role of traditional leadership, stating that 'a traditional authority that observes a system of customary law may function subject to any applicable legislation and customs [and that] the courts must apply customary law when that law is applicable, subject to the Constitution and any legislation that specifically deals with customary law' (s 211).

    The Constitution also contains provisions relating to restitution of land rights, stating that 'a person or community dispossessed of property after 19 June 1913 [the date of the enactment of the Natives Land Act 1913] as a result of past racially discriminatory laws or practices is entitled, to the extent provided by an Act of Parliament, either to restitution of that property or to equitable redress.' (s 25(7)).

  • Related Entries

  • Richtersveld Community Land Settlement
  • Makuleke Community Land Settlement
  • District Six Land Settlement
  • Organisation
  • Commission on Restitution of Land Rights
  • Land Claims Court
  • Government of the Republic of South Africa
  • Department of Land Affairs (South Africa)
  • Legal Resource Centre
  • Legislation
  • Restitution of Land Rights Act 1994
  • Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Act, 2003 (South Africa)
  • National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act 2003 (South Africa)
  • Employment Equity Act 1998 (South Africa)
  • Interim Constitution of the Republic of South Africa 1994 - Previous
  • Land Reform (Labour Tenants) Act, 1996 (South Africa)
  • Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, 2002 (South Africa)
  • Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Regulations, 2004 (South Africa)
  • Case Law
  • Alexkor Limited v The Richtersveld Community and Others Case CCT19/03
  • Fuel Retailers Association of Southern Africa v Director-General Environmental Management, Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Environment, Mpumalanga Province and Others [2007] ZACC 13
  • Policy/Strategy
  • Black Economic Empowerment
  • Apartheid
  • Riemvasmaak Community Land Settlement
  • South African Land Reform Programme
  • Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Transformation Charter for Agriculture

  • Glossary


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