Download this Paper Open PDF in Browser

Perspectives on Brown: The South African Experience

14 Pages Posted: 16 Aug 2006  

Penelope Andrews

University of Cape Town (UCT) - Faculty of Law


This paper views the meaning of Brown v Board of Education in the South African context as three-fold. First, Brown represented the repudiation of racial discrimination on legal or constitutional grounds. Second, it furnished a model of public interest lawyering for South Africans who wanted to challenge unjust laws in the courts. Third, Brown reiterated the importance of non-discriminatory education in a democracy. In this paper I examine the lessons of Brown for the South African struggle for racial equality, South Africa's constitutional transition and the significance of Brown in pursuing the right to education in South Africa. I conclude that although Brown was of tremendous symbolic value to South Africans, the South African constitutional framework, negotiated in the early 1990's, reflected global human rights developments more substantially than it did the American civil rights struggle. This is demonstrated by the mandate of the South African Constitution to consider international law and by the limited references to Brown by the Constitutional Court in comparison to the court's citation of international legal materials. Brown's waning substantive influence may also be attributed to the different path towards non-racialism taken by South Africans in contrast to the civil rights struggle in the United States.

Keywords: civil rights, race, South Africa

Suggested Citation

Andrews, Penelope, Perspectives on Brown: The South African Experience. New York Law School Law Review, Vol. 49, p. 1155, 2005. Available at SSRN:

Penelope Andrews (Contact Author)

University of Cape Town (UCT) - Faculty of Law ( email )

Private Bag
Rondebosch 7701
South Africa
021-650-2706 (Phone)

Paper statistics

Abstract Views