The role of constitution making and institution building in furthering peace, justice and development: South Africa’s democratic transition

14 May 2013

The international community accepts that peace, justice and development are indivisible properties of human freedom and thus wants a more coordinated approach to post conflict recovery. Today, transitions to democracy are typically launched through constitutional negotiations and anchored in efforts to fix broken state institutions or create new ones. These are settled strategies for addressing the social and economic causes of conflict in troubled societies. Transitional justice (TJ) has been slow to appreciate or capitalize on the inherent potential of these political processes to further justice and peace. By not taking a wider view of the opportunities for change that are presented by the transitional moment, TJ limits its capacity to construct the institutions that must work if a return to conflict is to be prevented. With this in mind, prominent practitioners have begun to look at how to extend TJ’s brief to include a wider set of issues linked to social justice. They are also looking for concepts and tools to bridge the divide between the field and related disciplines. This article presents South Africa’s transition as a case study of this wider view and is written from the perspective of a practitioner who was involved in building the post-apartheid democratic state. It aims to contribute to the current debate about TJ’s stake in post conflict transitions.