Friday, March 2, 2007


When I first arrived, I was surprised, even disappointed to find that I had traveled 11,000 miles to visit what seemed like suburbia. Most of the rich (white) people here lead remarkably western, even American way of life. I wasn't expecting lions and monkey servants, but I had no idea that shopping in decadent malls would be just as much of a competitive sport, and a part of life, as the in the US. As we're becoming more integrated into the community, we're hearing more and more how much this way of life is an illusion available to those who can afford it. With 25% of the country unemployed (down from 40% a few years ago) and the upper income bracket beginning at R150,000 (about $22,000), the security and comforts of the mall centered existence are available to only a few. So it seems more than perverse that one of the largest, most expensive, and opulent malls in the city is dedicated to Nelson Mandela, complete with a giant bronze statute.

While racism certainly still exists, I can't help but think that the enormous class disparities are at play when people tell me that the country is on the verge of civil war. Although the new government has been incredibly successful in many areas, to the extent that social mobility has proven impossible for many, while whites continue to get richer, it's no surprise that many would feel tricked and betrayed.

From Joburg

It comes down to this

Seeing as how we are law students, it was inevitable that we would eventually have to learn something about South African law. In short, it is a hybrid of civil and common law, owing to the fact that this is both a Dutch and British colony. Procedure (criminal, civil, evidence, etc) follows the common law tradition, while the laws themselves are taken from civil law pre-codification (I'm not sure what this means, but it sounded important). There are exceptions, and some bodies of law such as corporations follows English law. Delict (dee-lickt) is essentially torts, but with an entirely different set of rules. Rather than following the negligence standard, the judge (there are no juries here, even for criminal cases) has a “smorgasbord” of liability rules to choose from, depending, it seems, on what they feel like. For example, the judge could choose the last person who could have avoided the harm to be “wrongful,” and they will have to pay the “quantum” the judge decides is appropriate. What makes the least sense is the traffic accident system. Rather than suing the person who injured you (who is off the hook, maybe why drivers here are so crazy), you have to sue a government fund for accidents, which is limited by statute to pay out up to R25,000 (about $3,500).

Now if only I could figure out how to research cases. 1995 (3) SA 786 (CC) anyone?