Bona fides and ubuntu – A response to Dale Hutchison

Author J Barnard-Naudé

ISSN: 1996-2088
Affiliations: BCom (Law) LLB LLD (Pret) MA (Cape Town); Research Professor, University of the Free State.
Source: Acta Juridica, 2021, p. 85 – 106


This paper is a response to Dale Hutchisons recent arguments about the role of fairness in contract law after the Constitution. From the point of view of transformative constitutionalism, the paper argues that the fairness debate in the South African law of contract should be approached as what it so patently is, namely, as evidence of a deep ideological conflict that has existed in our law of contract for a very long time, and that this debate now exists within the context of a larger debate about the appropriate transformative reach of the Constitution. The argument takes the form of two dangerous supplements to Hutchisons discourse. The first of these supplements contends that indeterminacy is a symptom of the common law itself, rather than a result of contract laws contact with the Constitution. The second dangerous supplement suggests a responsible judicial engagement with bona fides and ubuntu, one that can exploit the strengths of both the common law and the Constitution and that understands good faith and ubuntu to be inter-linkingconstitutional values that should be enlisted in unison or at least in resonance when it comes to the question of fairness in our contemporary law of contract. In conclusion, I offer a reading of Hutchisons own politics of contract law and contend that his is an altruistic politics committed to the standard form. I contend that this politics of contract law is consistent with a transformative understanding of the post-apartheid legal order. Law, like every other cultural institution, is a place where we tell one another stories about our relationships with ourselves, one another, and authority. In this, law is no different from the Boston Globe, the CBS evening news, Mother Jones, or a law school faculty meeting. When we tell one another stories, we use languages and themes that different pieces of the culture make available to us, and that limit the stories we can tell. Since our stories influence how we imagine, as well as how we describe, our relationships, our stories also limit who we can be.