Restoring the ‘historical deficit’: The exercise of the right to freedom of religion and culture in democratic South Africa

Authors Patricia Michelle Lenaghan

ISSN: 1996-2126
Affiliations: Associate Professor, Department of Mercantile Law, University of the Western Cape (UWC)
Source: South African Journal on Human Rights, Volume 29 Issue 2, 2013, p. 294 – 313


On 18 January 1960, LIFE magazine began a series of articles on democracy around the world. The newly independent nation of Ghana (1957) was featured in Part 1 and the cover photograph was of Augustus Molade Akiwumi, the Speaker of the House in Ghana, dressed in British-style wig and robes. The title of the feature article read, ‘Ghana’s Leap from Stone Age to Eager New Nationhood’. The feature explains that in Ghana ‘Courts are being built, and in lower courts the temporary local judges are being replaced with more qualified appointees to settle local disputes and initiate the people in the mechanics of Western justice’. However in stark contrast to the portrayal of pre-colonial Ghana as ‘Stone Age’ the Asanti peoples of Ghana developed a complex, hierarchical society and legal system centuries before Europeans ever arrived on the continent. In critical reflection of the magazine cover, this article is founded on demonstrating how the colonial, post-colonial, apartheid and post-apartheid state have through an oppressive stance suppressed indigenous religious and cultural diversity. In addition, it is asserted that the current constitutional arrangements have not at all times effectively dealt with this subjugation. It is presupposed that unless a positive approach towards religious and cultural integrity is displayed and an environment is created in which these rights to freedom of religion and culture may prosper, the constitutional endeavour of establishing unity and solidarity in our diverse society will remain elusive. In conclusion, some approaches to enhancing this constitutional endeavour are proffered.