Law and Critique

, Volume 20, Issue 1, pp 43–58

uBuntu, Pluralism and the Responsibility of Legal Academics to the New South Africa


DOI: 10.1007/s10978-008-9041-y

Cite this article as:
Cornell, D. Law Critique (2009) 20: 43. doi:10.1007/s10978-008-9041-y


Neo-liberalism often reduces pluralism to a social fact based on the collapse of the big ideals that once claimed to stand in for the ideal of humanity. Tolerance of inevitable value diversity is all that can be offered by the rationalized modern western state. This understanding of pluralism is completely inadequate in the post colony. Ernst Cassirer offers a philosophical understanding of symbolic plurality that allows us to respect divergent symbolic forms, including myth and religion. This understanding of pluralism opens the space for respect for the customary law and the great indigenous ideals such as uBuntu which has often been denigrated as mythical and thus outdated or, worse yet, not law at all. This denigration is inseparable from colonial violence, and demands a process of transculturation as integral to this struggle to transform the new South Africa into a society that lives up to the Constitution’s call for the respect of all of its citizens. This respect can only be done if there are serious economic reforms and a challenge to the hegemonic neo-liberal capitalism.


Customary law Neo-liberalism Pluralism Responsibility uBuntu 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Private LawUniversity of Cape TownCape TownSouth Africa

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