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Colloquium and Call for Papers: "Conquest, Constitutionalism and Democratic Contestations"

18 - 19 May 2017, University of the Witwatersrand

South African public and political discourse has recently seen much discussion of South Africa’s colonial history and legacy, with some critical voices suggesting a continuity between the “colonial past” and the “constitutional resent”. For scholars of law, history, politics and society, this raises the question of the relationship between conquest and constitutionalism, and the parameters within which this relationship could be negotiated and democratically contested. Twenty years after the enactment of the present Constitution, problems of inequality, poverty, violence and social exclusion persist strongly along racial lines and much of the optimism of the early 1990s concerning the promises of new legal and political order has dissipated. The inertia of past inequalities and injustices illustrates that the “new South Africa” – lauded as a “miracle nation” with the “best Constitution in the world” – cannot be regarded as an unqualified success.

Popular scholarly accounts associate the problems in realizing the transformative aspirations of South Africa’s constitutional dispensation with, among other sources, the lack of political will on the part of the ruling party, corruption and maladministration in government, the constraints of global capital and the vagaries of legal interpretation and adjudication. How might centering the historical problematic of European domination and conquest in Africa and South Africa in particular provide an alternative frame or lens to theorise and understand
contemporary South African realities? What new insights might be gained from locating constitutionalism and the rule of law within the matrix of colonialism and Eurocentrism – not only at the level of political economy, social organisation and law but also at the level of culture and epistemology. These are some of the questions that could be posed in relation to the structure, discourse and ideology of constitutionalism in South Africa and the degree to which it has been able to respond adequately to the fundamental problems created by colonial-apartheid.

The South African Journal on Human Rights is pleased to announce a planned colloquium on the above topic, with the opportunity to publish papers in a Special Issue of the Journal. The aim of the Colloquium is to critically reflect on constitutionalism, human rights and the transition from colonial-apartheid to constitutional democracy from multiple theoretical and disciplinary perspectives. We encourage analyses that would foreground the role of land dispossession, cultural decimation (epistemicide), racial capitalism, and the European usurpation of territorial and political sovereignty in the making of the South African state and South African law, in shaping the production of knowledge, and in framing dominant accounts of history, politics and society.

Contributors may wish to engage with one or more of the following broad themes:

  • Law, transformation and social change – and the limits of law and adjudication;
  • Interventions on human rights, social justice, legal culture and transformation from the perspective of postcolonial, decolonial, African and Black intellectual traditions;
  • Revisiting the archive of historical and political representations of colonialism and apartheid, and their contemporary relevance to present legal, political and social problems;
  • The politics of identity and subjectivity (race, class, gender, sexuality and nationality, among others) and their entanglements with colonial and imperial histories in South Africa;
  • Community uprisings, protests and the struggles of post-apartheid social movements;
  • Spatial justice, land redistribution and property law;
  • Transitional justice, memory and the negotiated settlement in South Africa;
  • Ideas on decolonizing specific fields or areas of law and jurisprudence;
  • Legal pluralism and the status of African customary law;
  • The significance of South Africa’s colonial history for legal education and the transformation of the LLB curriculum;
  • Contestations over the role of international law in the Global South;
  • Critical perspectives on liberalism and its relation to the present constitutional order and to the history of political and legal liberalism in South Africa;
  • The relationship between colonialism and sovereignty, constituent and constituted power, nationalism and belonging and their application to South African legal and political context.

The SAJHR looks forward to intellectually stimulating debates and discussions with an intergenerational blend of established as well as emerging young scholars. Contributors are invited to submit a short abstract (of between 200 – 400 words) on one of the themes above for the Colloquium. Once accepted, authors will also be required to submit a draft paper for circulation to colloquium participants. The relevant dates are indicated below.

Abstracts and papers should be submitted to on the following dates:

Due date for abstract: EXTENDED TO 3 MARCH 2017
Due date for draft papers: 21 April 2017

Papers selected for publication will be subject to the normal peer review process of the SAJHR and must comply with the editorial policy and style guidelines of the Journal.