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De Jure Law Journal

On-line version ISSN 2225-7160
Print version ISSN 1466-3597

De Jure (Pretoria) vol.45 n.2 Pretoria  2012




The rule of law versus decisionism in the South African constitutional discourse


Die heerskappy van die reg teenoor desisionisme in die Suid-Afrikaanse grondwetlike diskoers



Koos Malan

BA Hons (Pret) Blur LLB LLD (Unisa); Professor in Public Law, University of Pretoria




Die heerskappy van die reg (rule of law) is een van die grondliggende waardes van die Suid-Afrikaanse grondwetlike orde. Saam met 'n aantal ander waardes wat in artikel 1 van die Grondwet van die Republiek van Suid-Afrika van 1996 vervat is, omskryf dit die eenstemmige waardekompleks waarop die huidige grondwetlike orde berus. Hierdie bydrae ontleed onlangse gebeure in die Suid-Afrikaanse grondwetlike diskoers, meer bepaald: (1) die omstredenheid rondom die Regterlike Dienskommissie se hantering van die klagtes van die regters van die Konstitusionele Hof teen regterpresident John Hlophe en (2) die president se verlenging van die ampstermyn van die vorige hoofregter kragtens 'n ongrondwetlike wetsbepaling. Daar word geargu-menteer dat die omstredenheid te wyte is aan twee onversoenbare denkbeelde oor die heerskappy van die reg. Die een is die klassieke konsep van oppergesag van die reg, wat op die beginsel van legaliteit gegrond is, en die ander, hier desisioinisme genoem, is gegrond op 'n "norm" van die "beste" besluit in die omstandighede. Hierdie diepliggende verskil spruit voort uit twee uiteenlopende (regs)kulture. Die een het 'n skriftuurlike grondslag en is geanker in 'n soewereine corpusvan reg teenoor die ander een wat mondeling en teenswoordig-gesentreerd is en wat nie met die idee van 'n soewereine corpus van reg soos dit eeue lank in veral die Westerse regskultuur bestaan, bekend is nie.



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1 This consensus was also reflected in a number of dicta of the Constitutional Court. Many of these may be referred to. Compare for example Fedsure Life Assurance Ltd v Greater Johannesburg Transitional Metropolitan Council
2 1998 (12) BCLR 1458 (CC) parr 56-59; Affordable Medicines Trust v Minister of Heath 2006 3 SA 247 (CC) parr 48- 49, 108, 109.
2 2011 3 SA 549 (SCA).
3 These heads of argument were signed by Advv Semenya SC, Madima, Pillay and Maenetje dated 2008-08-29. The heads have been obtained from the JSC and is on file with the author.
4 The heads of argument were obtained from the Registrar of the Supreme Court of Appeal and are on file with the author.
5 2011 10 BCLR 1077 (CC).
6 The heads of argument were obtained from the Registrar of Supreme Court of Appeal and are on file with the author. There were also other decisions that caused considerable public outrage namely that by the National Director of Public Prosecutions not to institute a prosecution against the President of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and now president of the country, Jacob Zuma, on various corruption-related charges. The prosecution took great pains to collect evidence and to prepare for the trial. There was a prima facie case against Zuma. Shabir Shaik, Zuma's financial advisor, was convicted on counts that share a similar factual basis as the case against Zuma. However, while the prosecution prepared for the trial against Zuma - and notwithstanding the impending prosecution Zuma gathered increasing support from within the ANC and was eventually elected president of the organisation in December 2007. Zuma's rise in the ANC was accompanied by a tremendous pressure from within the ANC for prosecution to be dropped. This was precisely what the National Prosecuting Authority eventually did when it announced its decision on particularly flimsy grounds. This cleared the way for Zuma to become president of the Republic of South Africa. The legal soundness of the decision was doubted and the official opposition, the Democratic Alliance considered legal action to challenge the decision.
7 Poverty Alleviation Network v President of the RSA 2010 6 BCLR 520 (CC) parr 65-66; Affordable Medicines Trust v Minister of Health of RSA 2005 6 BCLR 529 (CC) parr 74-79; Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association of SA; In Re: Ex Parte Application of President of the RSA 2000 3 BCLR 241 (CC) parr 85, 90; Bel Porto School Governing Body v Premier of the Province, Western Cape 20029 BCLR 891 (CC) par 45; United Democratic Movement v President of the RSA 1 2000 11 BCLR 1179 (CC) parr 55-76 (more in particular parr 55, 68 & 70); New National Party of South Africa v Government of the RSA 1999 5 BCLR 489 (CC) parr 19, 24.
8 See the recent judgment of the Constitutional Court in Gcaba v Minister of Safety and Security2010 1 BCLR 35 (CC) parr 59-62 and the case law cited there.
9 See for example Fedsure Life assurance v Greater Johannesburg Transitional Metropolitan Council 1999 1 SA 374 (CC) parr 56-58; Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association Of SA: In re ex parte President of the Republic of South Africa 2000 2 SA 674 (CC) par 17; Affordable Medicines Trust v Minister of Health 2006 3 SA 247 (CC) parr 49-50; Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development v Chonco 2010 4 SA 82 (CC) par 27.
10 The legal tradition abounds with general legal principles such as the principles of natural justice, which are an integral part of the legal order. One need not be a supporter of Dworkin to realise how important legal principles are. For Dworkin's discussion on principles see Dworkin Taking Rights Seriously(1977) more in particular chapters 4 and 7.
11 The emergence of an independent corpus of law as the basis of Western legal culture is explained very instructively by Berman Law and Revolution: The Formation of the Western Legal Tradition ((1983). For the truism that law is clearly distinguished and exists distinct from equity, expediency, morality, religion, custom, etc in Western (legal) culture see also Deutsch "On nationalism, world regions and the nature of the West" in Mobilization, Center- Periphery Structures and Nation-building (ed Torsvik)(1981) 74.
12 This argumentation is in line with Hart's exposition of the rules of recognition in widely read Concept of Law.
13 Through the art of artificial reason of the law as Edward Coke once reminded King James I. Quoted by Sabine A History of Political Theory (1971) 452 from Coke's ReportsPt XII 65.
14 See for example the discussion by David & Brierley Major Legal Systems in the World Today (1985) on the Romano-Germanic and the common law legal traditions.
15 Fukuyama The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution (2011) 278. Fukuyama discusses the rule of law in part 3 of this book.
16 Fukuyama 288.
17 Idem.
18 It may be argued that law is by definition abstract and impersonal and that the abstractness and impersonality of law distinguishes it from other forms of control of human behaviour. There is a long history, dating back to the Roman legal tradition that can be drawn upon as authority for this. See for example the references of Jolowicz Historical Introduction to the Study of Roman Law (1954) 25; Cicero De Legibus Part III 19 (English translation by Keyes (1966)); D 1 3 8 (translation by Watson (1985)).
19 S 177(1)(b) Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996.
20 There have been various discussions to address this problem but no legislation has been passed to fill this lacuna.
21 The background of the matter is reflected in full in Complaints of the Judges of the Constitutional Court against Hlophe and counter-complaint by Judge-President Hlophe against the judges of the Constitutional Court: Decisions and Reasons of the Judicial service Commission, dated 2009-09-29 available at Judicial Service Commission. This will further be referred to JSC majority decision 2009.
22 Zuma v National Director of Public Prosecutions (2008) 1 All SA 234 (SCA).
23 Hlophe v Constitutional Court of South Africa (2009) 2 All SA72 (W).
24 Langa v Hlophe 2009 8 BCLR 823 (SCA).
25 This was widely reported in the media, for example "Hlophe has no place on the Bench, say legal gurus" (2007-10-08) Pretoria News.
26 JSC majority decision 2009 par 343.
27 Ibid par 337.
28 Ibid parr 327, 328.
29 Ibid par 332.
30 decision.html (accessed 2012-11-03); See also The Sunday Independent at za/news/south-africa/kriegler-mulls-hlophe-challenge-1.457396 (accessed 2012-11-03).
31 Reflected in JSC majority decision 2009 par 330.
32 Ibid par 331.
33 Rule 5 of the Rules Concerning Complaints and Enquiries in terms of s 177(1)(a) Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996.
34 JSC majority decision 2009 par 331.
35 See Kriegler's comments on the majority's unjustifiable decision not to order a formal inquiry and cross-examination decision.html (accessed 2012-11-03); See also The Sunday Independent at (accessed 2012-11-03).
36 Amongst others in JSC majority decision 2009 parr 336-337, 345.
37 Ibid parr 340-363.
38 "Rule of Law deployed as a sword to decapitate the JSC" (2009-09-13) Sunday Times. See also Ngidi "It's time crusading Kriegler hung up his boots" (2009-09-20) Sunday Independent.         [ Links ] The Black Lawyers Association (BLA) was also strongly supportive of the majority decision.
39 The minority decision of the JSC in the CC/Hlophe matter is recorded in Complaints of the Judges of the Constitutional Court against Judge President Hlophe and counter-complaint by Judge President Hlophe against the judges of the Constitutional Court: Decisions and Reasons of the Judicial service Commission, dated 2009-08-29 available at Judicial Service Commission, here referred to as JSC minority decision 2009. The decision was summarised in a press release of the same date by the JSC.
40 Freedom Under Law v Acting Chairperson of the Judicial Service Commission 2011 3 SA 549 (SCA) parr 41-42.
41 Ibid par 48.
42 Ibid par 48.
43 Ibid par 50.
44 Ibid par 58.
45 The facts and the decisions of the JSC in the Oasis matter are set out in two press releases issued by the Judicial Service Commission on 4 and 18 October 2007 respectively, available at the Constitutional Court in Johannesburg.
46 59 of 1959.
47 47 of 2001
48 Justice Alliance of South Africa v President of the RSA 2011 5 SA 388 (CC) par 20.
49 Ibid par 69.
50 Ibid par 108.
51 Ibid par 111.
52 See in this regard amongst others Mazrui "Globalism and Some Linguistic Dimensions of Human Rights in Africa' in Human Rights, the Rule of Law and development in Africa (eds Zeleza & McConnaughay)(2004) 52 et seq (specifically 68);         [ Links ] Weissbourd and Mertz "Rule-centrism versus legal creativity: the skewing of legal ideology through language" 1985 L and Soc R 623 623 et seq.
53 AFT submission par 2 AFT submission. The submission was signed by Advv Semenya SC, Madima, Pillay and Maenetje.
54 Ibid par 6, 8, 44, 45, 57.
55 Ibid par 60.
56 Hansard (2003-2-17) 128-134. The litmus test, according to De Lange, for intellectual transformation -
"... would be how individual judges and magistrates will pursue their legitimate and genuine constitutional obligations, without wittingly or unwittingly going out of their way to frustrate or undermine the legitimate and genuine choices and aspirations of the majority of South Africans to create a fully functioning democracy and a socio-economic and ideologically transformed country".
57 AFT Submission par 9.
58 Ibid parr 7, 8, 46, 50, 51, 61.
59 Ibid par 61.
60 Ibid par 43.
61 Ibid par 60.
62 Ibid par 81.
63 Ramatlhodi "Rule of law deployed as sword to decapitate the JSC" (2009-0913) Sunday Times.
64 S 174(2) Constitution of the Republic of South Africa 1996: "The need for the judiciary to reflect broadly the racial and gender composition of South Africa must be considered when judicial officers are appointed".
65 In Ramatlhodi's logic the position would have been vastly different with white judges. They are not instrumental in judicial transformation. If they did what Hlophe had done a formal hearing, cross-examination and impeachment, all according to the book would have been perfectly fine -arguably another example of the best decision in the circumstances.
66 Ramatlhodi "Rule of law deployed as sword to decapitate the JSC" (2009-09-13) Sunday Times.
67 Ngidi "It's time crusading Kriegler hang up his boots" (2009-09-20) Sunday Independent. Ngidi also said that the JSC is an institution established in terms of a democratically adopted constitution and suggested that questioning the majority's decisions was an assault on the legitimacy of the JSC.
68 BLA submission parr 15, 16.
69 Ibid par 17.
70 Ibid par 20.
71 The same holds true for constitutional adjudication. Even though it might be argued, that stare decisis does not apply in the same measure to constitutional matters, constitutional adjudication still requires that the courts adjudicating such matters must account for their decisions in terms of their previous decisions and reasoning. This is quite clear among others from South African constitutional jurisprudence on the question of stare decisis, as evidenced in dicta of judgments of the Constitutional Court cited in footnote 8.
72 Deutsch 73-74; Also see Watkins The Political tradition of the West(1957) 8-9 who describes what he calls legalism is a distinguishing feature of the West.
73 Deutsch 75.
74 Ghai "The rule of law, legitimacy and governance" 1986 Int J of Soc of L 184.
75 Berman (op cit) describes in detail the historical emergence of the particular legal tradition in the West since the latter part of the eleventh century.
76 Huntington The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (1998).
77 The others are the separation of spiritual and temporal authority, the rule of law, social pluralism, representative bodies, and individualism. Some of these characteristics were not always strictly adhered to and they have not consistently been absent in other cultures. However, the combination of these characteristics has been more prevalent in the West that in any other civilisation. See Huntington 70-72.
78 Huntington 72.
79 Ghai 1986 Int J of Soc of L 184 196.
80 Mazrui 62.

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