The Life and Times of Textualism in South Africa




Interpretation, contextualism, statutory interpretation, history, methods of interpretation, textualism, intentionalism, Endumeni


This paper analyses the dominant approaches to statutory interpretation through a historical lens. It argues that for most of South Africa's history the methods of interpretation were twisted in order to give effect to the intentions of the legislature. This approach to interpretation has now been discarded into the waste bin of history, and intentionalism has been replaced with contextualism. Or so we are told. The judgment of the Supreme Court of Appeal in Natal Joint Municipal Pension Fund v Endumeni Municipality 2012 4 SA 593 (SCA) has been hailed as the new, settled approach to interpretation, with the Constitutional Court endorsing Endumeni on numerous occasions. But it appears from both the judgments of the Constitutional Court and those of other Courts that intentionalism is not yet dead. This paper argues that the reason for this is because Endumeni has not provided clarity to the process of interpretation that it proclaims to do.




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Author Biography

Kessler Perumalsamy, University of the Western Cape

Lecturer, Department of Public Law and Jurisprudence, University of the Western Cape, South Africa

Advocate of the High Court of South Africa

Pupil Member, Cape Bar



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How to Cite

Perumalsamy, K. (2019). The Life and Times of Textualism in South Africa. Potchefstroom Electronic Law Journal, 22, 1–28.



Special Edition: Legal Interpretation after Endumeni

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