CONTACT: TOM SNEE
300 Plaza Centre One
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 384-0010; fax (319) 384-0024
Release: Jan. 30, 2003
South African High Court Justice Discusses Post-Apartheid Law
In a post-apartheid South Africa, the University of Michigan’s
affirmative action case now before the U.S. Supreme Court would be easy to
decide, according to a justice on the nation’s Constitutional Court.
“Our constitution recognizes the grave inequalities in South African
society in the past,” said Justice Zak Yacoob. “It has a provision
that recognizes that measures designed to advance those persons who suffered
past discrimination are legal. Michigan would easily win its case if a similar
provision were in (the U.S.) Constitution.”
Yacoob spoke to a gathering of UI College of Law faculty in the Boyd Law
Building Wednesday afternoon, the guest of law professor Adrien Wing. Yacoob,
a South African of Indian descent who is also blind, is a former anti-apartheid
lawyer and activist who was appointed to the South African Constitutional
Court in 1998. The court, South Africa’s highest, is charged with interpreting
the country’s first post-apartheid constitution, which was adopted
Yacoob said the court has played a significant role in helping South Africa
reconstruct a more equitable and just society from the rubble of the racist
apartheid regime since it replaced the country’s old apartheid-era
appeals court system in 1996. For instance, in one of the first cases it
heard, the court struck down the country’s death penalty as incompatible
with the new post-apartheid South Africa because it is opposed to the 1996
constitution that seeks to instill life, dignity and equality as the highest
values of the new South Africa.
“The state had to demonstrate by example that peace and non-violence
were an important value in the society we were building, and that could not
be achieved with a death penalty,” Yacoob said.
Yacoob said the new court also has symbolic value in that it is the first
major South African public institution that did not exist during the apartheid
“There was a concern the old court system would not achieve a sufficient
break with the past, so the new Constitutional Court signals a decisive break
with those days and the creation of a new order,” he said.
While visiting the College of Law, Yacoob also met with students and spoke
to law classes.