Human Rights and Citizenship in Post-Apartheid South Africa.


The South African constitutional discourse is the foundational agency that produces citizenship, centring subjectivity as a relational engagement with the existential reality of the everyday life of ordinary people. In this paper, however, it is pointed out that in terms of the constitutional provisions, the nature of inter-subjectivity, i.e. subject-to-subject relations, orients and indeed frames relations of power undergirding citizenship. It is furthermore argued that though the conceptual parameters of citizenship are often nebulous, as a discursive referent, however, it informs both the basis and dimensions of a constitutional democracy, such as obtained in post-apartheid South Africa. Even so, it would appear that the construction of a discourse of change and the effective transformation/elimination of oppressive/exploitative practices in the every day life of ordinary people are fraught with a range of structural slippages and incidents of institutional inertia. In this regard, the paper highlights several issues: First, the dominant discourse on the new South Africa is predicated upon a declarative citizenship, not an assertive citizenship, in that elected officials (presumably) representing the citizenry declare the noble ideals of an inclusive society by representing their specific constituencies in all spheres of government, as opposed to the electorate participating directly at all levels of decision-making in all spheres of government. Second, citizenship as ensconced in the Constitution is based on the premise that all humans have equal access to rights, in contradistinction to the prevailing reality that only those with financial wherewithal can have their rights enforced; even in cases where socio-economic rights have been successfully defended in a Court of Law such as in the case of Grootboom vs. SA State (1999). In this instance though, rights to adequate service delivery were not followed through by compelling local authorities to provide quality, sustainable services to affected communities in whose favour the Court ruled. This means, amongst other things, that institutional defiance militates against citizenship and also thwarts attempts to create a meaningful everyday life for 'ordinary' people at grassroots level.


Williams, J. J. Human rights and citizenship in post-apartheid South Africa. Critical Arts: A Journal of South-North Cultural Studies (2001) 15 (1) 24-49. [DOI: 10.1080/02560240185310061]

Human Rights and Citizenship in Post-Apartheid South Africa.

Published 1 January 2001