What is the Court’s new symbol?

The Court’s logo, a tree sheltering people sitting beneath it, is a representation of the traditional African concept of justice under a tree. It signified the protection of people’s rights in the new South Africa. Constitutional Court Library.

Traditionally, the symbol of justice around the world, which has roots in ancient Rome, is a blindfolded lady justice carrying a set of scales. The blindfold represents impartiality and the ideal that justice should be applied without regard to wealth, power, or other status. The scales represent the weighing of evidence.

The justices wanted the logo to reflect the history of the indigenous people of South Africa who were oppressed and marginalised by the apartheid courts In order to earn the trust of the people. One of the first tasks of the judges, therefore, was to think about the new logo. After some discussion with fellow judges, Justice Kate O’Regan suggested Cape Town designer, Carolyn Parton, to create the Court’s new logo. 

Initially, there were two options for the logo: people or a tree. The chosen logo combined both concepts and depicts a crowd of people standing beneath the tree, encapsulated in a circle. Here Carolyn describes how she managed to fulfil all the requirements of the new logo by basing it on the notion of ‘justice under a tree’:

The tree was central to the design of the logo. There are eleven branches that represent the different languages and the eleven judges. The four branches at the top suggest the shape of the South African coastline. The South African flag is also subtly suggested by the Y-shape in the tree-trunk. There are eleven people under the tree in an integration of both positive and negative shapes: both black and white elements interrelating. Some of the facets extend beyond its edges. This was an important element to release a dynamic energy, to show the Court’s progressiveness and the energy of the judges, their intense passion.

Carolyn Parton

designer, 2005

The Department of Public Works turned Parton’s logo into the large brass relief plaque that is now a compelling feature of the Court’s building. A plaque depicting the Court’s logo was unveiled by President Nelson Mandela on 14 February 1995 – the day of the Court’s inauguration.

President Nelson Mandela and Arthur Chaskalson, the President of the Constitutional Court, unveiling the new logo at the Court’s inauguration. Raymond Preston, Picturenet

The theme of ‘justice under a tree’ does not end with the logo. It also inspired the design of the Constitutional Court’s new building which is famous for its humble and unassuming, yet grand symbolic nature.


Audio Visual

President Mandela gives his State of the Nation address in Parliament. Mandela ends his address with the words, “Let us all get down to work”.

“We must construct that people-centred society of freedom in such a manner that it guarantees the political and the human rights of all our citizens.”– President Mandela, extract from State of the Nation Address, 24 May 1994

President Nelson Mandela announces his cabinet. It includes members of the African National Congress, National Party and Inkatha Freedom Party.

“There was pride in serving in the first democratic government in South Africa, and then the additional pride of serving under the iconic leadership of Nelson Mandela … [He] represented the hopes of not just our country, but of oppressed, marginalised and the poor in the world.”– Jay Naidoo, then Minister of RDP housing
“We place our vision of a new constitutional order for South Africa on the table not as conquerors, prescribing to the conquered. We speak as fellow citizens to heal the wounds of the past with the intent of constructing a new order based on justice for all.”– President Nelson Mandela, 10 May 1994