A blog with a focus on history is of course created in the present, there is no need hiding this fact of life. Karen Tani, contributor to The Legal History Blog, took up the theme of the South African world championship soccer which started on June 11 with a very interesting posting, In Honor of the World Cup – South African Legal History. The editors of this blog show the great advantage of creating a team of contributors to a blog by maintaining a very high number of postings every month, second to none, and followed at some distance by Nomôdos and the blog of the European Society for Comparative Legal History.
After watching today the second half of Holland-Denmark I would like to present some websites about the legal history of South Africa. A part of this history is still influenced by the so-called Roman-Dutch law, the amalgam of Roman and Dutch seventeenth century law that survived many changes in South African history, such as the introduction of English institutions and the use of English. A well-known project concerns the translation of these old Dutch works into English. By the way, in the Dutch Republic of the seventeenth and eighteenth century other variants of the Roman-Dutch law were created, as for instance the Rooms-Fries recht, the Roman-Frisian law, and thus this development was not unique. The Roman-Dutch Legal Tradition, an online exhibition at the Robbins Collection of the University of California at Berkeley, gives you a nice glimpse of these old Dutch law books.
A grim reminder to the influence of the Dutch language in South Africa is the word apartheid. The number of acts enforcing apartheid is staggering in itself, and the way this legislation was enforced perverted the rule of law, to say the least. The website of DISA at the University of Kwazulu-Natal is just one of many websites presenting graphic images of this history. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has tried to deal in a new way with the gruesome impact of apartheid on the people of South Africa. Comparing it to the several international tribunals dealing with crimes against humanity shows that South Africa has chosen a different and daring path. Traces of Truth is the apt title of a website at the University of Witwatersrand about this commission. The digital libraries presented at African Online Digital Library, a portal of Michigan State University, East Lansing, bring you to at least two websites dealing with the aftermath of apartheid and the future of democratic development.
Measuring the strengths and weaknesses of the present South African legal system is not easy. The South African Legal Information Institute (SAFLII) brings together information to help making a comparison between South African countries. At the very home page of the SAFLII I found a judgment of June 8, 2010 at the South Gauteng High Court at Johannesburg concerning the organisation of the FIFA World Cup: the South African government has to grant access to documents about the tenders for the World Cup.
From a great variety of possible websites to mention you will find here some links to courts. On the website of the Supreme Court of South Africa you can find both recent judgments and a judgment archive. The website of the Constitutional Court offers even more information. Law and justice are bound up with society in many ways: one can read about a great wealth of subjects at South African History Online. Its motto, “Rewriting history, critically examining the past, strengthening the teaching the history”, merits contemplation in countries where the teaching of history is sorely neglected. Even the South African soccer history is not forgotten on this website.
To round off this posting a few links of more extensive lists of websites concerning South Africa’s and Southern Africa’s chequered history:
- The commented list of sites at Overcoming Apartheid, Building Democracy brings you to many aspects of this subject
- The South Africa History Archive aims at building collections concerning the history of human rights
- Dutch views and actions against apartheid are documented in the Anti-Apartheid and Southern Africa collections at the International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam
- For databases of decisions of law courts in South Africa one can refer to the resources of the SAFLII
- African International Courts and Tribunals
- For an earlier period I would like to point to two French websites, Histoire du Droit des Colonies and Colonialcorpus; the latter proposes to build a portal to colonial history
An addendum: if I had known about the Aluka digital library when writing this posting I would have referred to it immediately.