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Building a South African Human Rights Culture in the Face of Cultural Diversity: Context and Conflict

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AbstractSouth Africa has faced enormous challenges since the advent of democracy in 1994. One of the difficulties in the post-apartheid era has been the building of a human rights culture in the context of substantial cultural diversity. In this paper, the constitutional, judicial and institutional contexts - which have consolidated and supported the expression of human rights in the face of cultural diversity - are reviewed. The focus on cultural rights in the constitution is discussed, and the relevance of several constitutional institutions in terms of ensuring human rights, is mentioned. With a clear understanding of the constitutional, judicial and institutional contexts in place, the paper discusses the potentially inherent conflict between human rights and cultural rights, using gender-related issues as a proxy. Several examples of this potential conflict are discussed, including female circumcision, virginity testing and polygamy. The importance of human rights education for informing the debate about cultural and human rights in South Africa is emphasized. The answers to the challenges associated with the clash between cultural rights and human rights are not simple, although pragmatically - in addition to the role of the available constitutional, judicial and institutional structures - they could reside in a cross-cultural debate.

Affiliations: 1: College of Law and Management Studies, University of KwaZulu-Natal Durban South Africa, URL:


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