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Improvised justice: Constitution vs. Reality in South Africa

Hootnick, Adam
June 4, 2015

Source: (2003) American Scholar. 72(1): 53.

In this paper, Adam Hootnick reflects on the realities of formal and informal justice structures in South Africa. A new constitution was enacted in 1996 in South Africa. While it borrows substantially from liberal democratic ideas in the constitutions of Western Europe and the United States, it is also uniquely South African. Yet in the judgment of one resident, South Africa has a “first-world world constitution in a third-world countryâ€? in terms of the capabilities of the country to practice fair and effective formal justice for its people, especially black South Africans in the townships. Hence, there are many informal, community-based organizations to which local residents turn for justice instead of the police and formal courts. Such organizations achieve a certain kind of effective justice, sometimes with genuine creativity and fairness. Yet at times the methods of community organizations and actions can be rough, even terribly brutal and unjust. Using many concrete examples, Hootnick illustrates both the problems and the possibilities with respect to formal and informal justice in South Africa.


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