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The importance of law in our young democracy can never be overstated. In conjunction with the highest law in the land, our constitution, promulgated by our beloved President Nelson Mandela, the South African legal system is as intricate as any other system in any country, if not more so. It is the cement that binds our budding democracy together and reminds all of us of our duty; not just to our country but to each other as well. South African law has a rich history that can rival that of any western country and allows our citizens the rights and benefits to freely pursue their livelihoods and practice their beliefs, free from the fear of persecution based on race and creed.

History of SA law

South African law originated from Roman-Dutch Law (Dutch: Rooms-Hollands recht) which is a casuistic based legal system based on Roman Law and practiced not only by us but also by our neighbours Lesotho, Swaziland, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe. Roman Dutch Law originated in the Netherlands during the 17th century and is largely based on Scots Law which, in turn, encompasses a number of civil and common law elements based on earlier historical sources, namely the early Justinianic Code, or Byzantine Law commonly practiced in the Holy Roman Empire. During the 17th  and 18th  centuries, the Dutch exercised the greatest influences over the application and interpretation of these laws. Famous historical scholars such as Hugo Grotius, Johannes Voet and Ulrich Huber successfully merged Roman law with legal concepts taken from traditional Dutch customary laws, specifically in the province of Holland. This new type of legal system was predominantly Roman but it contained many features that was characteristically Dutch; and thus Roman Dutch Law, as we understand it, was born.

This form of legal system was carried with Jan van Riebeeck as he walked the shores of the Cape Province on April 6, 1652 but today?s version of law differs widely from the system of law practiced in the early Cape colonies. South Africa of today has a hybrid law system based primarily on Roman Dutch Law but incorporates a number of distinct legal traditions: a civil law system from the Dutch, a common law system from the British and a customary law system inherited from indigenous South Africans, also referred to as African Customary Law, of with there are several variations depending on the tribe of origin. After 1652 Roman Dutch law held sway over the early colonies until the dominion of the British Empire in 1910 after which much of English law was subsumed into the Basis of South African law and this system of law was effectively practiced until South Africa gained its independence from the British in 1961. Today, the current South African legal system recognises the importance of these past legal systems and the role they played in the forming of South African law and subsequently incorporates these systems into the overall legal system

Lady Justice

Today, our tireless legal system as well as the rights of every individual regardless of race, religion or class are enshrined in our constitution. This supreme law (Afrikaans: Grond Wet) provides the legal foundation for the existence of our republic, defines the rights and duties of its citizens and defines the structures and procedures of our government. It was drawn up by parliament elected in 1994 and ratified in the first non-racial elections held on the 27th of April of that same year. Certainly, our country has changed since then and our constitution has been amended 16 times since its inception but it still encompasses the rights and freedoms of all and ensures the unhindered pursuance of those freedoms. Nothing can change the past but, together, we can all learn from past mistakes and work to avoid repeating it. Im reminded of a quote by one who often philosophised on the law, Franҫois-Marie Arouet, more commonly known as Voltaire: What is tolerance? It is the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other's folly - that is the first law of nature.

SA Justice System

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