Climate change protests and a liberal rights approach in South Africa: Pitfalls and potentials

Authors: Ademola Oluborode Jegede and Myrone Christopher Stoffels

ISSN: 1996-2193
Affiliations: LLB LLM LLD Professor of Law, University of Venda; LLB, LLM Lecturer, North-West University
Source: Stellenbosch Law Review, Volume 33 Issue 2, 2022, p. 125 – 147


The need for states and civil society to contribute to the global response to climate change is an important feature of international climate change instruments and literature. While states are duty-bearers of rights for all, protests are a historic strategy of civil society to demand accountability and foster societal change. The protection of protests is not specifically guaranteed under human rights law, but its inferred legal basis and scope reflects the liberal tradition, where Dworkin’s right-based theory on the tension between individual rights and the collective or societal goal is significant. This tension is expressed in South Africa, a developing country, where the liberal rights tradition has played a major influence on the formulation and application of rights and their legal limitations. The challenges which may result from this tension for climate-related protests are rarely clarified and the way in which these challenges may be addressed has not been carefully articulated. Employing Dworkin’s liberal rights as a basis of analysis, this contribution demonstrates how the tension between collective goals and individual rights may generate challenges in climate change protests. It then highlights key constitutional concepts associated with rights that may be helpful in addressing the drawbacks in South Africa.