This study is an application of the political theory of Michael Oakeshott aimed at
enhancing understanding of the South African state. Oakeshott posits that the modern
state is comprised of two separate modes of association, namely societas and universitas.
Universitas refers to an association to attain a specific substantive purpose, while
societas is an association based on common submission to the recognition of, and
adherence to, prescribed formal laws. Each tends towards self‐destruction when the
character of a given state is reflected by that mode of association exclusively. The
presence of both modes of association in tension with each other produces a stable state.
The South African state has been shown to reflect a dominantly universitas character,
but, since a monopolar state cannot exist, it follows that the societas understanding of
the state must also be present.
In this study, the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, Act 108 of 1996, is assessed
to determine whether it reflects a societas understanding of the state. Two formal
conditions for a societas are identified in the work of Oakeshott, namely a system of rules
and norms, and the recognition of this system as being authoritative. These formal
conditions are employed as a benchmark against which to test the character of the South
Dissertation (MPhil)--University of Pretoria, 2015.