When do you call time on a compromise? South Africa’s d iscourse on transformation and the future of transformative c onstitutionalism

  • Sanele Sibanda
Keywords: Adjudication, compromise, emancipation, inequality, liberation, transformation, transformative constitutionalism.


The main thrust of this article is to advance a critique of South Africa’s embrace of the grammar of transformation after the official demise of colonial-apartheid, in particular how this grammar has been deployed in a totalising fashion as it is held out to be definitive of the processes, measures and goals of change under the 1996 Constitution. In performing this critique, it is argued that transformation’s ability to find wide and enduring resonance has had much to do with its emergence as a transitional site of compromise that allowed erstwhile political and ideological adversaries to navigate a complex social and political transition. A quarter of a century after the moment of transition, this article interrogates South Africa’s continuing investment in this idea of transformation and addresses the implications of its continuing dominance in how South Africa constitutes itself and navigates self-understanding. In essence, the article argues that whilst the imperative of constitutional transformation may have formed around a common commitment to constitutional rights and values, its lived manifestation in what has emerged as the hegemonic discourse of transformative constitutionalism with its bias for adjudication driven social change has negated any pretensions it may have projected of being an emancipatory discourse directed at disrupting and undoing the multiple pernicious legacies colonial-apartheid.


Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 2077-4907
print ISSN: 2077-4907