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South African Journal on Human Rights


South African Constitutional Court, human rights, South Africa


Three of the Constitutional Court's socio-economic rights decisions of the 2009 term are the culmination of a strong trend towards the proceduralisation of socio-economic rights that many commentators have argued fails to fulfill their original promise. This triumph of proceduralisation undeniably restricts the direct transformative potential of these rights. But there is another aspect to this trend - an aspect reflected in the Court's emphasis on participatory democracy and the ability of procedural remedies to democratise the rights-enforcement process. This article considers what the triumph of proceduralisation means for future social and economic rights litigation and argues that properly developed the engagement remedy can give poor people and their advocates an important and powerful enforcement tool. At the same time, engagement can help strengthen and promote consistent attention to the constitutional values these rights protect. Tapping this potential requires the Constitutional Court and lower courts to apply the remedy more consistently, to develop its requirements more fully and to apply those requirements robustly where government fails to engage meaningfully on social welfare policy. The courts are only the starting point, however. For engagement to truly succeed, government must develop comprehensive engagement policies and institutionalise those policies at all levels. Finally, civil society must expand its role beyond pressing for engagement in individual cases into advocating for such institutionalisation.