What kind of institutional culture should be created?

Justice Kriegler, Chief Justice Chaskalson and Justice Sachs in the Constitutional Court. Gallo Images / Robbie Schneider

From the very first meetings, collegiality defined the culture of the Constitutional Court. The judges referred to each other as ‘brother’ and ‘sister’, a practice that still exists today. This collegiality permeated beyond the judges to the rest of the Constitutional Court staff, creating an environment defined by ubuntu, respect and inclusion.

An institution is more than the individuals who function within its confines. Institutions have a life and a culture of their own that is both shaped by and influences those who are part of them. The Constitutional Court has eleven judges. We sit en banc and decide cases together. Although we have our differences, what has been of fundamental importance during the first ten years of the life of the Court has been the spirit of collegiality that permeates all aspects of our work. That has been an invaluable asset.

Justice Arthur Chaskalson

then Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court

Humility and collegiality are two fundamental virtues that you must have for you to be able to serve in this Court.

Justice Sisi Khampepe

I must say, when I arrived at the Supreme Court of Appeal, the environment was not welcoming. It was still at the stage where white judges did not have confidence in black judges. And I think the majority of them thought we were there only on the basis of the colour of our skin. That we didn’t qualify to be there … It took a while for one to establish oneself to be respected at an intellectual level. But when I came to the Constitutional Court it was different. It was welcoming. Everybody was friendly. But the difference was you’re sitting in a big panel, which has its own challenges.

Justice Chris Jafta

That is not to say that there were no quarrels, or arguments, or heated words from time to time, because of the different personalities, strong personalities. But I think that spiced up the whole existence of that early Constitutional Court group.

Justice Pius Langa

then Deputy President of the Constitutional Court

One thing that stands out when you compare the Constitutional Court with the other courts … is the genuine collegial relations with your colleagues, as opposed to some other courts where … the relations are more superficial … You build relations, which might be stronger than even your private individual family relations because these are the people with whom you spend more time, these are the people with whom you discuss difficult matters affecting the country. It is quite rewarding in that sense.

Justice Chris Jafta


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