Bridging the gap between people and the law: Transformative constitutionalism and the right to constitutional literacy

Authors Tim Fish Hodgson

ISSN: 1996-2088
Affiliations: Researcher, SECTION27
Source: Acta Juridica, 2015, p. 189 – 212


Only 46 per cent of people in South Africa have heard of the existence of either the Bill of Rights or the Constitution. Only 10 per cent of people have ever read the Constitution or had it read to them. For transformative constitutionalism to be meaningful it must take into account this context and acknowledge that the success of the constitutional project requires the creation of a societal culture shaped by law and a legal culture shaped by society. This paper builds on the work of Chief Justice Langa and others who have written on transformative constitutionalism. It frames the philosophy of transformative constitutionalism as people-focused and acknowledges the need to bridge the gap between people and the law in South Africa. It discusses the historical and systemic reasons for this gap and argues that knowledge and understanding of rights — constitutional literacy — is itself a right. This argument is grounded in the state’s duty to promote the rights in the Bill of Rights and the rights to access to courts, dignity and basic education. Empowered by full knowledge of our rights, we have the right to make the many decisions of which our lives are composed, participate fully, meaningfully and effectively in society, and make decisions about when and whether to approach courts to protect our rights.