King Nno V De Jager 2021 4 SA 1 (CC): Three Perspectives

Authors: François du Toit, Matthew Harding and Andreas Humm

ISSN: 1996-2193
Affiliations: BA (Law) LLB LLM LLD, Senior Professor, Faculty of Law, University of the Western Cape; BA (Hons) LLB (Hons) BCL DPhil, Dean, Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne; Dr iur Mag iur, Former Research Associate, Max Planck Institute for Comparative and International, Private Law, Hamburg
Source: Stellenbosch Law Review, Volume 33 Issue 3, 2022, p. 501 – 528


In the King case, the South African Constitutional Court adjudicated on a gender-based disinheritance under a testamentary fideicommissum. The court, in three judgments, found that the disinheritance violated public policy and was, moreover, unconstitutional and thus invalid. King was the Constitutional Court’s first pronouncement on a gender-based disinheritance in a purely private bequest. It therefore stands in contrast to earlier High Court and Supreme Court of Appeal judgments regarding the exclusion of potential beneficiaries under testamentary charitable bequests. This contribution provides three perspectives by commentators from three jurisdictions on the Constitutional Court’s judgment in King. The first perspective argues against an objection that can be raised against a judgment such as King, namely that it constitutes an unjustified judicial violation of personal autonomy, freedom of disposition and private property in the law of gifts and trusts. The first perspective posits that discriminatory goals such as those pursued through explicit gender-exclusive disinheritances are inherently worthless and the judicial invalidation of such disinheritances therefore have a negligible impact on personal autonomy, freedom of disposition and private property. The second perspective cautions against the Constitutional Court’s express rejection of the public/private divide in the law of gifts and trusts. It argues that the divide plays an important role in striking a balance between personal autonomy, freedom of disposition and private property on the one hand, and policy as well as constitutional imperatives regarding equality and non-discrimination on the other hand. The second perspective thus advocates that the public/private divide must be retained in the law of gifts and trusts. The third perspective evaluates the King case from a German viewpoint and argues that the Constitutional Court’s reasoning in this case undervalued freedom of testation. The third perspective advances a solution that strives to balance the arguments that underpin the first and second perspectives.