Guide last updated by Katherine Read, April 2022
We also recommend the following online research guides for foreign jurisdictions.
South Africa now has a hybrid legal system which reflects the history of the country and which contains a blend of Common law, Roman-Dutch law and statutory law.
The legal history of South Africa is well outlined in Barratt and Snyman's online guide "Researching South African law" (updated in 2010 by Redson Edward Kapindu and in 2018 by Salona Lutchman) which provides the basis for the following summary. In the mid 17th century the Dutch settlers introduced a Roman-Dutch civilian law system. The British took possession of the Cape in 1806. Although the Roman- Dutch system remained in place, English procedural law was adopted in the courts. In addition the civilian law was insufficient to support the requirements of the 19th century society. New legislation needed to be introduced and this was often based on English Acts because many of the judges and advocates of the time had trained in the UK and were familiar with English treatises. Apartheid became official South African government policy in 1948 and, as resistance to this increased, the Government implemented legislation to allow the state to detain, arrest and imprison its opponents. During the 1980's there were successive states of emergency until the government began to negotiate with the opposition, a process which lead towards the Interim Constitution Act of 1993.
On May 8th 1996, after the election of Nelson Mandela as President in 1994, South Africa adopted a first version of the new Constitution. Then, on 6th September 1996, the Constitutional Court decided that this version might not comply with the constitutional principles contained in schedule 4 to the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, Act 200 of 1993. A second version was drafted, adopted on 11th October 1996 and signed into law in December 1996. Further amendments have since been made. The objective in drafting this was to ensure that it was legitimate, credible and accepted by all South Africans. The process of drafting the Constitution involved many South Africans in the largest public participation programme ever undertaken in the country. The Bill of Rights, which is incorporated into the Constitution, not only protects the individual against the State but can also be applied to relationships between individuals. The Constitution incorporates customary law alongside Common law. The Acts Online website is the source of this information about the development of the constitution.
The South African Government Information web site offers the most up-to-date full text of the current Constitution, including amendments made since 1996.
IALS also holds the following printed commentary on the Constitution
South Africa. The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa reflecting the law as at December 2005. Juta Law 2006
An additional useful source is Hein - World Constitutions Illustrated. Contemporary and Historical Documents. This provides full text of the documents and related articles. Offsite access is available to UOL academic users.
Legislation prior to the new 1994 Constitution
IALS holds the following older series most of which are held in the closed access basement.
Locale Wetten - 1849-98 (in Afrikaans only)
Revised Statutes of the Union of South Africa 1910-1929 (amended to 1934)
Union Statutes 1910-1947 (arranged according to subject) Classified and annotated reprint
Statutes of the Union of South Africa 1910-1960
Statutes of the Republic of South Africa 1961-1994 (Government Gazette)
National subsidiary legislation: IALS holds a more limited collection from the Gazette from No. 5724 (1977) to Vol. 342 of 1993.
IALS also holds collections of ordinances and regulations for the different provinces. eg. Province of Natal consolidated ordinances and regulations 1911-1986 Looseleaf compiled by H.L. Van Graan 1964-
Details of all the collections are available on the online catalogue.
Legislation post 1994 and the new Constitution
The official source of South African legislation is the Government Gazette. IALS holds this in printed format up to 2003.
A source for more recent legislation is SafLii which covers case law and legislation from South Africa.
IALS has subscribed to the printed commercial series Juta's Statutes of South Africa since 2004. The legislation in this series is arranged by subject and is currently up to date to 2020-2021.
For the current legislation there are several free resources on the internet. The two main ones are government websites. The South African Government Information site offers full text Acts since 1993 and Bills/draft bills since 1996-7 under the heading of documents. The South African Parliament site currently offers Bills and Acts from 1993-.
In addition Acts Online is a commercial site which offers full text legislation conveniently arranged by subject. It does not however guarantee that all the the texts are fully updated
Law Reports prior to the new 1994 Constitution
The Cape Supreme Court was established in Cape Town in 1828 and was later followed by courts in the Eastern and Northern Cape and the Natal Supreme Court (1857). A new Supreme Court of South Africa was set up following the Union of South Africa which took place in 1910. It had local divisions in the provinces. At a later date the 'independent states' which were created during the apartheid era set up their own superior courts.
The following list represents a selection of the older series held at IALS. These are mainly held in closed access but may be requested from the Enquiry Desk.
Officieele Reporten van het hoog Gerechtshof 1895-7 (in Afrikaans)
South African law reports (Appellate division) 1910-1946
South African law reports 1947-
Cape and Orange Free State: selected decisions of the Native Appeal court 1929-30, 1935-48 (incomplete holdings)
Natal and Transvaal: selected decisions of the Native Appeal court 1929-30/31, 1933-48 (incomplete holdings)
IALS holds the Digest of South African Case law 1909 - 1934 with annual supplements until 1973. This is continued by Butterworths consolidated index & noter up to the South African Law Reports 1947- 2020 which is also held at IALS.
Current law reports (post 1994 and the new Constitution)
IALS holds the more recent volumes of South African law reports 1994- and Butterworths Constitutional law reports 1994-
The Constitutional Court of South Africa was born as a result of the formation of the new Constitution in 1994. Its reports are freely available in full text. The website also gives background information about the court, its staff and how it operates and the library.
Free internet resources for South African law reports are fairly well established. IALS does not currently offer an online subscription service for case reports but SAFLII (Southern African Legal Information Institute) provides free full text access to cases from a wide selection of different courts. The starting dates for coverage in the courts mostly range from the early 1990's to 2015 but there is coverage for the Supreme Court of Appeal from 1971 to the current year.
Joubert, W.A. Law of South Africa. 1976- 1995 (earlier years are held in the closed basement)
The encyclopedia is a multiple volume set arranged by subject and each subject entry is written by someone with authority in the field. References are given to relevant legislation and cases. This is intended for use alongside Law of South Africa. Current Law. which is also edited by Joubert et al.
The current law service is in two parts. The review appears monthly and is a digest of recent legal developments. The looseleaf section covers commencement dates, tables and details of recent publications and research. The Current Law Service refers readers back to entries in the main encylopedia. (awaiting confirmation on whether still current 25.4.22)
South African books at IALS are shelved at GF or FOL GF. The following represent a selection of the more recent texts for a range of topics.
Basson, M. Money laundering and terror financing: law and compliance in South Africa 2020. LexisNexis 2020
Burchell, J. & Milton, J. The principles of South African criminal law 5th ed. Juta 2016
Burns, Y. Administrative law LexisNexis 2020
Cassim, F. & Cassim, M Contemporary company law Juta 2012
Cilliers A.C. et al. The civil practice of the High Courts and the Supreme Court of Appeal of South Africa 2009
Collings, J. Scales of memory: Constitutional justice and historical evil OUP 2021 (e-book) (compares South Africa with the USA and Germany)
De Waal, J. & Currie, I. The Bill of Rights handbook. 6th ed. 2013
Dhai, A. & McQuoid-Mason, D. Bioethics, human rights and health law: principles and practice Juta 2020
Forsyth, C.F. Private international law: the modern Roman-Dutch law including the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. 5th ed. 2012
Fowkes, J. Building the constitution: the practice of constitutional interpretation in post-apartheid South Africa 2016 CUP (e-book)
Gibson, J.T.R. South African mercantile and company law 8th ed. 2003
Hoexter, C. Administrative law in South Africa. 2nd ed. 2012
Kelbrick, R. & Cassim, F. Civil procedure in South Africa 2018
Kende, Mark S. Constitutional rights in two worlds: South Africa and the United States. 2009 CUP (e-book)
Mars, Walter M. & Bertelsmann, E. Law of insolvency in South Africa 10th ed. 2019
Nagel, C.. Commercial law 2015
Schulze, H. & others General principles of commercial law Juta 2019
Van der Merwe, C. & du Plessis, J.E. (ed.) Introduction to the law of South Africa. Kluwer, 2004
Van Huyssteen, L. & others Contract: general principles 6th ed. Juta 2020
Wael, Reem Negotiating the power of NGO's: Women's legal rights in South Africa 2019 CUP (e-book)
IALS holds quite a wide selection of current South African journals. It is worth noting that many of the articles are in English even where the main journal title is in Afrikaans. The following titles are all on current subscription. Some are available in full text on Hein. Most titles are indexed in Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals.
De rebus: the South African attorney's journal 1979- ( also available free on the Web)
Industrial law journal 1980- (includes Industrial law reports)
South African law journal. 1901- (V.18) Vols. 1-17 had the title Cape Law Journal and are also held at IALS
Stellenbosch law review (Regstydskrif) 1990- (IALS collection incomplete)
Tydskrif vir hedendaagse Romeins-Hollandse Reg. (Journal of contemporary Roman-Dutch law) 1937-
IALS also subscribes to Sabinet online. This provides electronic access to South African Law Journal and Journal of South African Law and also to the following titles which IALS does not hold in printed format:
South African journal of labour relations (2001-2017)
Finally the following title is a free online resource. Pochtefstroom electronic law journal 1998- It focuses on issues relating to the development of the South African Constitutional State, including comparative law materials. It is available as part of SAFLII
Access to law reports from a wide range of different courts is provided by SAFLII
The Hauser Globalex site provides English language guides to a wide range of jurisdictions and subject areas covering foreign, international and comparative legal research and tools for building research collections in these areas
Researching South African law 2005 (Amanda Barratt & Pamela Snyman) updated in 2018 by Salona Lutchman
The Competition Tribunal of South Africa site provides full text reports from the Tribunal Court which can be searched using party names and keywords. It also offers a selection of related decisions from the High Court and relevant legislation in full text.
Law Society of South Africa. Site of the professional body representing lawyers in South Africa.
Official site of the Parliament of South Africa Includes full text access to Acts, Bills and the Constitution
Further web links for South Africa can be accessed on Eagle-i