The importance of dissent: Two judgments in administrative law

Authors Cora Hoexter

ISSN: 1996-2088
Affiliations: Professor of Law, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg; Advocate of the High Court of South Africa
Source: Acta Juridica, 2015, p. 120 – 140


In a Bram Fischer lecture, Chief Justice Pius Langa spoke eloquently about the value and importance of dissent in society and more specifically in the courts. This article draws attention to two judgments in which he himself disagreed with the majority in the context of administrative law. Both judgments are characteristic of Chief Justice Langa and show him at his best, if not at his most popular. Both are remarkably clear-sighted and well-reasoned opinions. Both demonstrate his strong sense of constitutionalism and his profound respect for the design of our democratic Constitution and the institutional roles set out in it. Most tellingly of all, both are based on principle rather than pragmatism, and both eschew expediency. While only one of these judgments has found vindication in the Constitutional Court’s subsequent jurisprudence, both opinions illustrate the qualities of scrupulousness and courage that distinguished the work of Chief Justice Langa; for in both instances he faithfully followed the advice he gave at the end of his Bram Fischer lecture: ‘Tell the truth about the emperor’s robes, no matter the consequences.’