Recalibrating Everyday Space: Using Section 24 of the South African Constitution to Resolve Contestation in the Urban and Spatial Environment




Law and urban space, The right to an environment, Right to Freedom of Movement, Right to Safety and Security of the Person, Law and urban planning


Positioned as existing predominantly within a green agenda, the right to an environment (section 24 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996) presents numerous opportunities for rights-based interpretation in the "brown" urban and spatial environment. In this article I conduct such an exercise, focussing on both the right to freedom of movement (section 21 of the Constitution) and the right to the safety and security of the person (section 12 of the Constitution). I begin by drawing out the historical and contemporary spatial implications of both rights, drawing on empirical research that demonstrates how the enclosure of everyday space through gating practices and private securitisation in the South African city serves to extend spatial apartheid into the current day. A siloed interpretation of both rights, however, leads to an impasse between the two. Both rights are prima facie of an equal value in a constitutional setting.

To resolve this standoff, I argue for the use of the environmental right as a constitutional value. This is an underutilised right in the South African Constitution, and yet it holds much promise given how it seeks to protect the health and wellbeing of both present and future generations.

There are two benefits to employing the environmental right as a constitutional value. First, the environmental right situates both section 12 and section 21 in a symbiosis of individual claims to shared resources, in the process recalibrating the human ecology of the urban and spatial environment away from the centrality of dominant actors and towards a polycentricity of interests. In so doing, section 24 provides a fuller and more connected picture of both rights.

Second, the duty implicit in the environmental right reveals how to begin realising these rights on a wider scale that goes beyond individual injustices and towards community justice. I argue strongly that this duty exists on the state: left unattended to, everyday space becomes the preserve of those with the means – financial or otherwise – to shape space according to their own anti-public interests. In this regard, I present two instances of policy and legal choices available to the state that serve to undo contemporary experiences of spatial apartheid


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How to Cite

Coggin, T. (2021). Recalibrating Everyday Space: Using Section 24 of the South African Constitution to Resolve Contestation in the Urban and Spatial Environment: . Potchefstroom Electronic Law Journal, 24, 1–31.



SARChi CLES Series on Cities, Law and Environmental Sustainability