What does the Constitution Protect? | How to I enforce my rights?

Issued in the public interest by the Association of Law Societies.
Printed and distributed by the Law Society of the Cape of Good Hope.


EVERY PERSON is born with basic human rights. These rights protect his/her dignity as a person and relate especially to his/her freedom and his/her equality with all other people.

The nation which recognises, cherishes and protects basic human rights is a true democracy and is equipped to provide the peaceful and orderly life to which all peace-loving people aspire.

In many countries, however, human rights are violated because governments and powerful persons exploit and suppress the ordinary citizen. For this reason it is necessary to protect human rights in law. South Africa's Interim Constitution sets forth the basic human rights to which we are all entitled, and because it is the supreme law of the land, any other law or state action which intrudes upon these rights is unconstitutional and thus invalid.

The purpose of this pamphlet is to set forth briefly the rights which you and your family have - and to inform you how to exercise and protect those rights, with the help of your attorney, where necessary.

If you have an interest in a company or close corporation, it is important for you to know that certain of these fundamental rights also extend to it.

But where necessary, your rights can be restricted if such restriction is reasonable and justified, as determined in the Constitution.


* Your right to equality before the law. There may be no unfair discrimination against anyone, in particular on the grounds of race, colour, ethnic or social origin, culture, language, sex, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience or belief.

* Your right to life. Your human dignity. Your freedom. Your personal security.

* Your right to work for whomsoever you wish. No one may be subjected to servitude or forced labour. Children are specifically protected in this regard.

* Your right to privacy. You are protected against searches of your person, home or property, the tapping of telephone conversations, the opening of post and the seisure of private posessions (except by court order, granted in the public interest such as to combat crime).

* Your right to freedom of religion, conscience, thought, belief, opinion and speech, provided that your rights in this respect may not to used to violate other people's rights.

* The right to assemble, demonstrate and present petitions peacefully and unarmed and to associate with whomsoever you wish, e.g. to marry and socialise according to choice.

* The right to freedom of movement and residence in your own country: Every person who has not been sentenced to jail, should have the right to freedom of movement in his/her own country. Likewise, each person is free to choose his/her place of residence - rights which have been seriously infringed in the past.

* Your citizen's and political rights - to enter and leave the country, to hold a passport, to vote in secret, stand for election to public office, and to paticipate in party political activities.

* Your right of access to court for the settlement of disputes.

* Your right to administrative justice and access to information - i.e. the right to fair administrative procedures and to be furnished with reasons for administrative actions affecting you.

* The right of detained, arrested and accused persons to fair and correct measures, such as communication in an understood language, detention in decent conditions, the right to legal defence, contact with family, friends and medical help, a public trial within a reasonable time, bail under certain conditions, and to challenge the evidence led against you.

* The right to economic activity - to pursue a livelihood subject only to democratically justifiable restrictions.

* The right to fair labour practices to join a trade union or an employer's organisation, to organise and bargain collectively and for workers to strike.

* The right to acquire and hold property - with expropriation permitted only in the public interest and against fair compensation.

* The right to an environment which is not detrimental to health.

* The right of children, who are vulnerable, to a name, a nationality, parental care, security, basic nutrition and protection against abuse and exploitation.

* The right to respect of language and culture - bearing in mind the rights of others and the practical implications of given rights.

* The right to basic education and equal access to educational institutions.

It should be noted that no rights are absolute. If one person's rights compete with those of another, they must be subject to some restriction. Also, in time of national emergency, certain rights can be suspended temporarily for the purpose of restoring peace and order. But such suspension is subject to conditions and controls to prevent unnecessary intrusion upon fundamental human rights.


Informal facilities open to a person include the media, human rights organisations, political parties and community organisations such as churches and trade unions.

For the legal enforcement of your human rights, the official facilities open to you in terms of the Constitution are the Courts, including the Constitutional Court, the Human Rights Commission, the Public Protector and the Commission on Gender Equality.

The first person you should consult regarding the protection of your human rights through these channels is your attorney. He/she has the necessary knowledge of the law and can thus advice you on the question of how strong your case is. He/she has access to, and knowledge of, the Courts and can take your case through the lower Courts, the Supreme Court, the Appeal Court and, if needs be, the Constitutional Court itself

Issued in the public interest by the Association of Law Societies.
Printed and distributed by the Law Society of the Cape of Good Hope.


Typed from the pamphlet for the CABI data base.