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Socio-Economic Rights In and Out of the Courtroom by Stuart Wilson and Juli...

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SW1.17, 1st Floor, Somerset House East Wing

King's College London

Strand

London

WC2R 2LS

United Kingdom

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In the two decades since the adoption of South Africa’s post-Apartheid Constitution, the political struggles of the country’s poor have often been premised on socioeconomic rights claims, articulated both on the streets and in courtrooms. On the streets, so-called “service-delivery protests” have become a daily feature of life across the country. In courtrooms, community organisations and activists use the Constitutional framework both to defend themselves against infringements of existing socio-economic rights, and to articulate further claims to social, economic and political citizenship.

Scholars, however, have tended to treat the struggles on the streets and in courtrooms as conceptually and practically separate. Some have focussed South Africa as the “world capital of protest” and have placed forms of public protest at the core of an analysis of popular politics. Others have focussed on legal reasoning and courtroom argument, placing the careful balancing of precedent and possibility at the centre of their own analyses. But both stop at the courtroom door - one going in, the other going out.

In this paper, we seek to disrupt the dichotomy between street-level struggles and struggles waged in the courtroom. By considering the development of political and legal strategies of struggle by community organizations and their interlocutors, we suggest that these struggles are conceptually and practically interlinked. Socio-economic struggles can neither be located purely on the streets nor in the courtroom, but have developed - and continue to develop - in the interchange between them.

This approach suggests that we must conceptualize popular struggles premised on socio-economic rights claims in South Africa differently - as neither purely legal nor purely political, but rather as the product of the interchange between the two. It means that the study of the development of rights law cannot continue to address decisions in abstract terms, but must consider how they embody particular political struggles - not only of elite political actors, but of South Africa’s large communities of the poor.


Biography's

Stuart Wilson is the Executive Director of the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI), a practicing advocate, and a Visiting Senior Researcher in the School of Law at the University of the Witwatersrand.

Julian Brown is Senior Lecturer in Political Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand, and the author of two books: South Africa's Insurgent Citizens: On Dissent and the Possibility of Politics (2015) and The Road to Soweto: Resistance and the Uprising of 16 June 1976 (2016).

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SW1.17, 1st Floor, Somerset House East Wing

King's College London

Strand

London

WC2R 2LS

United Kingdom

View Map

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