Equality beyond dignity: Multi-dimensional equality and Justice Langa’s judgments

Authors Catherine Albertyn, Sandra Fredman

ISSN: 1996-2088
Affiliations: Professor of Law, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg; Attorney in the High Court of South Africa; Rhodes Professor of Laws of the British Commonwealth and the United States, University of Oxford
Source: Acta Juridica, 2015, p. 430 – 455


The tendency for South African equality jurisprudence to reduce equality to a single value, namely dignity, has been much debated, especially around the relationship of dignity to disadvantage. In this article we argue for a multidimensional idea of equality that moves beyond a dignity/disadvantage paradigm to enable a fuller exploration of the complex harms and injuries that underlie equality claims, and greater elucidation of the multiple principles and purposes of equality. In particular, we argue that substantive equality should be understood in terms of a four-dimensional framework, which aims at addressing stigma, stereotyping, prejudice and violence; redressing socio-economic disadvantage; facilitating participation; and valuing and accommodating difference through structural change. We suggest that this enables a better exploration of the different principles that underlie equality and an open discussion of complementarities and tensions between them. We explore the benefits of this approach through an evaluation of three equality cases in which Justice Langa delivered the leading judgments. Although we do not claim that he fully adopted such an approach, we engage Justice Langa’s philosophy on equality as it emerges from these judgments, and evaluate the extent to which we can develop from this a more fully-fledged understanding of equality and its underlying values in the South African Constitution.