Unlocking the potential of wellbeing in the environmental right: a teleological interpretation

Author Megan Donald

ISSN: 1996-2193
Affiliations: BTS BA(Hons) LLB LLM, LLD Candidate, Stellenbosch University
Source: Stellenbosch Law Review, Volume 31 Issue 1, 2020, p. 55 – 79


The concept of well-being in the environmental right in section 24(a) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 (“Constitution”) has great potential for enhancing the quality of life for people in South Africa, particularly the poor who bear the brunt of environmental pollution and degradation. The meaning of well-being is potentially very extensive and requires more delineation if it is to be useful and effective for claimants. It is suggested that the potential of the environmental right to promote social justice and improve the quality of life of South Africans is best unlocked through a teleological and interdependent interpretation of section 24 in the context of the Bill of Rights. This article explores the (under)development of well-being and the environmental right before the courts. It then investigates the interpretation of the term in the textual setting of section 24 as well as in the context of the Bill of Rights and the values and goals underpinning the Constitution. The Bill of Rights is indicative of what the Constitution deems essential for a life of equality, dignity, and freedom, and it is consequently indicative of the entitlements and interests which underpin human well-being. This article proposes an interpretation of well-being that encompasses, at a minimum, the interests already recognised in the Bill of Rights so that where an aspect of the environment negatively impacts an aspect of a fundamental human right, there is an impact on well-being in terms of section 24(a). This interpretation highlights the potential of well-being to promote constitutional goals and values and to address circumstances of intersecting disadvantage or harm. The proposed approach to well-being would provide much-needed clarity to potential claimants by providing a framework for the scope of well-being. This could assist in unlocking the full potential of the environmental right.