Section 185 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 provides for the
establishment of a Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural,
Religious and Linguistic Communities. The notion of the rights of communities in contrast to
the rights of individuals (belonging to such communities) is central to the mandate of the
Commission. Thus the very first of the objects of the Commission under section 185(1)(a) is
to promote respect for the rights of cultural, religious and linguistic communities. The remainder
of section 185 is permeated with the notion of the rights of communities.
The same obtains for the legislative instrument, the Commission for the Promotion and
Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities Act, 24 of 2002, that
gives further effect to the relevant constitutional provisions namely, most notably in section 4
and section 5(g) and (i) of the Act.
However, the prevalent consensus is that the Commission has been unsuccessful in
discharging its responsibilities in relation to community rights. The primary reason is that the
Commission has failed to grasp the notion of the rights of communities, thus causing it to be
incapable of giving effect to them. This failure is particularly serious especially in view of
convincing theoretical arguments in favour of collective rights.
It has for example been shown that the existence and recognition of communities are not
only essential for cultural, language and religious rights but also for seemingly unequivocal
individual rights such as the right to freedom of association and expression. These rights can be exercised only within a communal setting. This point has been demonstrated convincingly
by scholars such as Denise Réaume, Rodolfo Stavenhagen and Helen O’Nions and many
Moreover, there are important developments in international law supporting the
recognition of the rights of communities. Three points are significant in this regard.
Firstly, although article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights is
framed in individual-rights terms, the International Commission of Human Rights which
oversees the Covenant is increasingly interpreting article 27 in collective terms. This is apparent
from the Committee’s General Comment 23 and its requiring of states to take positive action
towards the protection of the communities individuals belong to as opposed to individual
Secondly, there is the Declaration of the Rights of Persons Belonging to National, Ethnic,
Religious and Linguistic Minorities. Various provisions of this Resolution of the United Nations
also require positive action of state governments to protect these communities and not only
individual members, for example that “(S)tates shall protect the existence and the national or ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic identity of minorities within their respective territories
and shall encourage conditions for the promotion of that identity.”
Thirdly, there is the United Nations Development Report of 2004, which represents a major
step forward in the protection of (minority) cultural communities. The report contains a
comprehensive position on the way in which states should organise themselves in order to
safeguard communities effectively, including minority communities. Cultural freedom is the
guiding principle of the report. Accordingly, policies directed towards the achievement of
homogenisation of culturally diverse societies are emphatically condemned while majoritarianism
is rejected. The Report highlights the link between human development and cultural
freedom, stating that “(c)ultural liberty is central to the capability of people to live as they
would like. The advance of cultural liberty must be a central aspect of human development,
and this requires going beyond social, political and economic opportunities since they do not
guarantee cultural liberty.” Accordingly, “(s)tates need to recognize cultural differences in
their constitutions, their laws and their institutions. They also need to formulate policies to
ensure that the interests of particular groups – whether minorities or historically marginalised
majorities – are not ignored or overridden by the majority or by dominant groups.”
Organs of state in South Africa, including the Commission, ought not to ignore these
important developments. Unfortunately this seems precisely what the Commission has been
doing. That is the reason for the Commission’s failure thus far. It will only be able to revive itself once it duly accounts for the notion of the collective legal claims of communities which
is the prerequisite for enabling it to give effect to its constitutional and legislative mandate.
Die Kommissie vir die Bevordering en Beskerming van die Regte van Kultuur-, Godsdiens- en
Taalgemeenskappe voldoen nie aan die verwagting om die regte van gemeenskappe te beskerm
nie. Die hoofrede hiervoor is dat die Kommissie nie erns maak met die konsep van regte van
gemeenskappe, naas individuele regte nie. Op die keper beskou is die beskerming van
gemeenskappe die voorwaarde vir uitoefening van talle oënskynlik eg individuele regte,
byvoorbeeld die reg op vryheid van uitdrukking, vryheid van assosiasie, asook regte met
betrekking tot taal, kultuur en godsdiens. Dit is belangwekkend dat onlangse ontwikkelings
op die gebied van die internasionale reg juis groeiende erkenning verleen aan die beskerming
van die integriteit van gemeenskappe ten einde sinvolle beskerming aan individue te verleen.
Eerstens vertolk die Internasionale Komitee vir Menseregte die oënskynlik individualistiesgeformuleerde
artikel 27 van die Internasionale Verbond vir Burgerlike en Politieke Regte
(1966) toenemend kollektief ten einde sodoende die klem op die beskerming van gemeenskappe
te plaas. Tweedens, vereis die Deklarasie oor die Regte van Persone wat tot Nasionale-, Etniese-,
Godsdienstige- en Taalminderhede behoort (1992) van state om daadwerklike stappe te doen
om die betrokke minderheidsgemeenskappe te beskerm. Derdens onderskryf die Verenigde
Nasies (VN) se Ontwikkelingsverslag (“Development Report”) van 2004 breedvoerig die
beginsel van kulturele vryheid en word daar van state vereis dat hulle huishoudelike reg die
kulturele vryheid van gemeenskappe aktief bevorder. Terselfdertyd keer die Verslag staatsbeleid
wat kulturele homogenisering meebring onomwonde af. Dit is noodsaaklik dat Suid-Afrikaanse staatsorgane met inbegrip van die Kommissie van hierdie ontwikkelings kennis neem en
dienooreenkomstig optree. Die Kommissie se nalate om juis dit te doen, verklaar in beduidende
mate sy eie mislukking.
Confronted by the charge of depoliticisation levelled at human rights frameworks and
interventions, I investigate the possibility of a politics of human rights at the core of
democratic politics. In doing so, I am guided ...
Hansungule, Zita Mulambo(University of Pretoria, 2016)
This dissertation focuses on the protection and promotion of the socio-economic rights of children with disabilities in South Africa. Socio-economic rights aim to ensure that material inequalities that are experienced by ...
Mbazira, Christopher(University of Pretoria, 2003)
"It is submitted that South Africa presents the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (the Commission) and the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights (the Court) with inspiration to draw from on how social-economic ...