Graduate School
Welcome to Stellenbosch University

Dr Salome Teuteberg

Home country: South Africa

Year of enrolment: 2012

Graduation date: March 2015

Department:  Political Science

Supervisor: Prof Pierre du Toit

Dissertation title: A framework for constitutional settlements: An analysis of diverging interpretations of the South African constitution.


Abstract: South Africa's transition to democracy has been hailed as exemplary in the field of conflict resolution and constitution-making. The negotiated settlement was expected to serve as a consensual constitutional framework boding well for the newly democratic regime, but by 2014 evidence was accumulating of an emerging dissensus on the South African Constitution. The literature on the South African transition does not anticipate this emerging constitutional dissensus, or address the possibility that the constitution meant different things to different stakeholders. While there was widespread endorsement of the ratification of the constitution, an apparent divergence has emerged about its meaning and what is stands for. Many studies addressed the process of constitutional negotiations and the outcome thereof, but few examine the meaning that the original negotiators invested into this outcome. The study aimed to address whether this dissensus was present during the negotiating process (1990 - 1996), and whether the negotiators' agreement on the formal text of the constitution obscures fundamentally diverging interpretations. The study is in the form of a qualitative, descriptive case study. This study created a novel conceptual framework within which to classify diverse interpretations. Perceptions of negotiated compromises in deeply divided societies were conceptualised in the form of Constitutional Contracts, Social Contracts and Benchmark Agreements. Original negotiators' views and opinions were analysed in order to identify dispositions reconcilable with each of the concepts identified. This framework proved significantly helpful in identifying whether the views of the negotiators were divergent – on several levels, differences between negotiators during the negotiating period came to the fore. It became evident from the findings that there were indeed present among the ranks of the negotiators of the South African Constitution diverging interpretations of this outcome. It became clear that certain interpretations were more easily categorised than others: while being able to locate the views of some negotiators within the concepts of Constitutional Contract or Social Contract, identifying those views congruent with the Benchmark Agreement proved more difficult. Also, some negotiators' views can be located within one, two or all of the categories. It became evident that while negotiators may be categorised within all three concepts of the framework, their opinions are not necessarily specific to the indicators of one single concept. This study brought significant insight into several concepts, including the Social Contract in a changing society. The Social Contract is identifiable within a system that fosters process over institutions, with specific focus on the working of the electoral system. The Social Contract is vested in the political culture as opposed to in the written text, but the written text does facilitate these types of processes by entrenching mechanisms for ongoing negotiation and revision. However, while some of these mechanisms exist within the Constitution, it does not mean that they are effectively used. Characteristics associated with the Social Contract, such as flexibility and an inclusive process, tend to be associated with longer lasting constitutions. The question remains whether South Africans should be actively seeking to build a Social Contract, and whether a Constitutional Contract can evolve into a Social Contract.

Click here to download full dissertation: