Pierre de Vos

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Pierre de Vos
Born Pierre Francois de Vos
(1963-06-29) 29 June 1963 (age 51)
Messina, Transvaal, South Africa
Nationality South African
Alma mater Stellenbosch University, Columbia University, University of the Western Cape
Occupation Law professor, legal commentator
Employer University of Cape Town
Title Claude Leon Foundation Chair in Constitutional Governance
Term 2009–present
Relatives Anna-Marie de Vos, SC (sister)[1][2]

Pierre Francois de Vos (born 29 June 1963) is a South African constitutional law scholar.

Background and career[edit]

De Vos was born in Messina, Transvaal, (now Musina, Limpopo) and matriculated from Pietersburg High School in Pietersburg (now known as Polokwane).[3] He obtained a BComm (Law), an LLB and an LLM (cum laude) from Stellenbosch University, an LLM from Columbia University and an LLD from the University of the Western Cape.[4] He taught law at the University of the Western Cape from January 1993 to July 2009, when he was appointed the Claude Leon Foundation Chair in Constitutional Governance at the University of Cape Town.[5] He was appointed Deputy Dean (LLB) of the UCT Law Faculty in January 2011.[6] He currently teaches undergraduate courses on South African Constitutional Law, the South African Bill of Rights and a post-graduate course on Governance and the South African Constitution.

Since September 2006 he has written a blog, Constitutionally Speaking, which deals with South African social and political issues from a constitutional law perspective. He is also a contributor to Thought Leader, a news and opinion website owned by the South African newspaper Mail & Guardian. His blog posts are simultaneously published on the Daily Maverick website.[7] He is a regular media commentator on political and legal events in South Africa and has appeared on numerous SABC and e.tv programmes as well as on South African radio stations such as SAfm, RSG, 567 Cape Talk and Talk Radio 702. He has also appeared on the BBC World Service and CNN International.[8]

He has published articles on sexual orientation discrimination and same-sex marriage,[9] the enforcement of social and economic rights, HIV/AIDS, the construction of race, racism and racial discrimination and other human rights issues. He is a regular media commentator on the South African judiciary[10] and South African law.[11][12]

He is also the author of a novel Slegs Blankes / Whites Only written in Afrikaans, the story of a young white South African man coming to terms with his father's involvement in an apartheid-era police hit squad.

He is an Afrikaans speaker but does not identify as an Afrikaner. He identifies as white, gay and atheist.[13]

He is the Chairperson of the Board of the Aids Legal Network, a non-governmental human rights organisation, and a board member of the Triangle Project, a non-profit LGBT advocacy organisation.[4][14][15]

Controversies and public engagement[edit]

  • In February 2004, in the first case considered by the Equality Court set up in terms of the Constitution of South Africa, de Vos and his partner won a case against the owners of a gay bar in Cape Town after the owners admitted that they had discriminated against de Vos's partner because of his race. As part of a settlement, which was made an order of court, the bar was ordered to pay R10,000 to Siyazenzela, a non-profit organisation nominated by de Vos's partner.[16]
  • In 2008 de Vos became embroiled in a spat with Helen Zille, the leader of the official opposition in South Africa after Zille had criticised Justice Nathan Erasmus for chairing a Commission of Inquiry set up to investigate wrongdoing by her party.[17] Zille had said that "some judges allow themselves to be abused and I am afraid Nathan Erasmus is one of them".[18] Writing on Thought Leader, de Vos took issue with Helen Zille on two points: that the DA was being "hypocritical" in trying to shut down the Commission and that her comment about Justice Erasmus was "politically stupid" and served to undermine the independence of the judiciary.[19] Zille responded to the article arguing that the Commission was a political witch-hunt. The Cape High Court eventually declared the Commission unconstitutional.[20]
  • In June 2009, after a radio debate between de Vos and Paul Ngobeni, a supporter of Judge President of the Cape, John Hlophe, de Vos was accused of being a racist who hated Hlophe. "This guy will be joining a group of gangsters who make (John) Hlophe their do-or-die issue. Whites want to entrench themselves in the last unelected branch of government - the judiciary," said Ngobeni. De Vos denied the charge.[21] He pointed out that what he had written on his blog was the opposite of what was alleged, namely: "This does not make me a person who hates the Judge President (or his lawyers)".[22]
  • In 2009 he was critical of the government's attempt to evict residents of Joe Slovo Informal Settlement in Cape Town and rulings upholding their eviction by the Western Cape High Court and the Constitutional Court of South Africa.[23]
  • In 2010 he was similarly critical of the decision by the City of Cape Town to build open toilets (so-called "loos with a view") for the residents of Makhaza, a township in Cape Town.[24][25]
  • He has published many articles in support of the social movement Abahlali baseMjondolo, including commentary on the legal aspects of their occupation of land in Macassar and the attack on the movement in Kennedy Road.[26][27][28][29]
  • In August 2011, de Vos came out in support of a call by South African Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu's for a once-off wealth tax imposed on those who benefited from apartheid.[30] He wrote on his blog "But not only is a wealth tax on white South Africans who earn a minimum amount of money constitutionally valid. It is also an important and welcome idea that must be supported by all right-thinking South Africans with even a smidgen of a conscience or common sense", and stated that the tax would be "a small gesture towards reconciliation and redress". He criticised the FW de Klerk Foundation for rejecting the idea of a reparations tax, and for saying in a media statement that it would be unconstitutional to do so, writing on his blog "Such measures are not 'reverse discrimination' or 'positive discrimination' but are rather 'integral to the reach of our equality protection'".[31]



  • de Vos, Pierre (1994). Slegs blankes / Whites only (in Afrikaans). Pretoria: Kagiso Literêr. ISBN 9780798634748. 


  • de Vos, Pierre; Freedman, Warren, eds. (2014). South African Constitutional Law in Context. Oxford University Press. 

Recent academic articles[edit]


  1. ^ "Abstract: This article argues that the adoption of the Civil Union Act, extending marriage rights to same-sex couples, does not represent the inevitable and triumphant victory of a long legal and political struggle for the emancipation of gay men and lesbians in South Africa. A combination of luck, wise strategic leadership and fortitude eventually led to the adoption of full marriage rights for same-sex couples. The article traces the roots of this legal and political victory back to the debates about the inclusion of the sexual orientation clause in the South African Constitution and points to the importance of the distinct (conservative) legal strategy employed by the National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality in achieving full partnership rights for all. The initial jurisprudence developed by the Constitutional Court created the basis for later legal victories and brought along judges who might have had some misgivings about the extension of marriage rights to same-sex couples had the issue arisen earlier on. The Constitutional Court's judgment in Fourie left very little room for Parliament to manoeuvre because it emphasised the symbolic value of marriage and confirmed that a 'separate but equal' partnership law for same-sex couples would not pass constitutional muster. However, this important legal victory will not have any direct and immediate bearing on the lives of many gay men and lesbians in South Africa as they face social, cultural and economic hardship in ways that cannot be easily addressed through the legal reform of partnership laws. The improvement of the lives of ordinary gay men and lesbians will go hand in hand with changes in societal attitudes towards minority sexualities, which to a large extent will be dependent on grassroots activism and organisation. Because the battle for full marriage rights was a well directed, elite-based legal battle, it failed to build a sustainable, vibrant, grassroots movement to take on this task but the symbolic space created by the same-sex marriage reform may well begin to allow for the fostering of such a movement and thus for true emancipation of gay men and lesbians."
  2. ^ "Abstract: This article maps the legal developments that led to the adoption of the Civil Union Act, which extended full marriage rights to same-sex couples in South Africa. It points out that this extension of marriage to same-sex couples would not have been possible if it was not for the groundbreaking decisions on sexual orientation discrimination handed down by the South African Constitutional Court over the past ten years. It also describes the complex legal regime now in place which allows different sex couples to enter into marriage in terms of a traditional Marriage Act or the new Civil Union Act but restricts same-sex couples to entering into marriage in terms of the latter Act. The article concludes that while this extension of marriage rights can be viewed as a legal revolution, some problems remain with the legal regulation of same-sex relationships in South Africa."
  3. ^ "Abstract: The two judgments of Laurie Ackermann in the first and second National Coalition cases are in many respects remarkable documents. They engage in an intellectually rigorous and sometimes provocative way with the question of sexual-orientation discrimination and extend legal protection for many individuals who experience same-sex sexual and emotional desire. The judgments also pose significant questions about the way in which the law can and should deal with sexual identity and questions traditional notions of a fixed homosexual identity - particularly in the South African context."
  4. ^ "Abstract: Wholesale non-compliance with court orders is a distressing phenomenon in modern day South Africa, both in the Eastern Cape and elsewhere. Where this non-compliance with court orders is rooted in the 'laziness and incompetence' of state officials and where it negatively affects often poor and vulnerable members of society who are, in effect, denied access to life-sustaining resources (which would otherwise have been provided by the state) because of the tardiness of state officials, courts are confronted with difficult issues that strike at the heart of the rule of law, and for respect for the moral authority of the judiciary. What is at stake in such cases is nothing less than the legitimacy of the legal system and the courts that underpin it. When indigent members of society turn to the courts (itself a rare occurrence, given the prohibitive cost and technical difficulties faced by many such individuals) to have the legal obligations of the state owed to them enforced and the system fails them due to a lack of respect for court orders, the rule of law - which EP Thompson controversially called an 'unqualified human good - is fundamentally threatened. Courts therefore have, both in pragmatic and ethical terms, a duty to take steps - within the limits of what is permissible by the Constitution and the law - to ensure that court orders are enforced and the court's legitimacy and authority is preserved."
  5. ^ "Abstract: The title of this paper suggests there is a firm link between the jurisprudence on sexuality and gender authored by Justice Albie Sachs during his tenure on the Constitutional Court and the work conducted in the field that has become known as queer legal theory. That such a link exists needs to be affirmed since there is perhaps no other South African judge whose jurisprudence has considered the question of the legal empowerment and/or emancipation of sexual minorities as seriously as that of Justice Sachs."
  6. ^ "Abstract: In this note we propose to deal, from a particular vantage point, with the Constitutional Court's judgment in Le Roux & others v Dey (Freedom of Expression Institute and Restorative Justice Centre as Amici Curiae) 2011 (3) SA 274 (CC): we investigate how heteronormativity (as a cultural phenomenon) influences the determination in the majority judgment (authored by Brand AJ) that defamation had been committed by the applicants. By using the term 'heteronormativity' we mean to gesture at the set of cultural practices and assumptions that privilege heterosexuality and assume that the monogamous heterosexual couples represent the principle of social union itself."
  7. ^ "Abstract: The Constitutional Court has dealt with racially based corrective measures against the background of the Court’s understanding of South Africa’s apartheid past and the lingering effects and consequences of this past on post-apartheid society. While the Court has not always demonstrated a sufficient degree of care when deploying racial categories, its jurisprudence also gestures at the need for a contingent and critical approach to race when engaging with the problem of race-based corrective measures. The Constitutional Court’s jurisprudence on constitutionally permissible (or required) race-based corrective measures is discussed and I point out that the way the Court deals with this question opens up space for a constructive engagement with legally mandated race-based corrective measures to avoid some of the pitfalls highlighted in the article."
  8. ^ "Abstract: The notion of race continues to permeate every aspect of both public and private life in South Africa. Race insinuates itself into our responses to situations and people and even when we claim that we have escaped the perceived shackles of race, we are merely confirming its presence by our stated yearning for its absence. Against this background, and given the constitutional commitment to non-racialism, some academics and commentators argue against the use of race-based corrective measures on the basis that such measures perpetuate racial thinking and entrench racial identities, instead of helping us to move away from them. In the article the author takes issue with this view, contending that the effects of past and on-going racism and racial discrimination cannot be addressed merely by assuming that the consequences of race - including racism - can be addressed by attending to the material conditions of inequality and by ignoring race. What is required is to question the positions and discourses of privilege and dominance that stem from an ideology of white superiority and hegemony and to engage more critically and in a nuanced manner with the power of race and the effects of ongoing racism and racial discrimination."


  1. ^ de Vos, Pierre (23 May 2013). "The curious case of the pastor punished for honesty". Daily Maverick. Retrieved 18 October 2013. my sister, Anna-Marie de Vos, SC, argued her case 
  2. ^ Adams, Sheena (19 October 2005). "Lesbian judge quizzed about her lifestyle". IOL. Retrieved 18 October 2013. De Vos became a household name in South Africa four years ago when she and her partner Suzanne du Toit won a Constitutional Court case to be recognised as the legal parents of their two adoptive children.  See also Du Toit v Minister of Welfare and Population Development.
  3. ^ de Vos, Pierre (7 September 2010). "Who is digging a big hole for itself?". Constitutionally Speaking. Retrieved 20 April 2013. 
  4. ^ a b "Pierre de Vos". UCT. Retrieved 15 April 2013. 
  5. ^ "De Vos is new chair in Constitutional Governance at UCT" (MS Word) (Press release). University of Cape Town. 19 June 2009. Retrieved 11 July 2011. 
  6. ^ "The Senate". UCT. Retrieved 13 April 2013. Law – Deputy Deans – Professor Pierre Francois de Vos (Undergraduate Studies) (01.01.2011 to 31.12.2013) 
  7. ^ "Opinionistas". Daily Maverick. Retrieved 12 April 2013. 
  8. ^ de Vos, Pierre (3 September 2012). "Opinion: Why South African miners will not be convicted of murder in Marikana dispute". CNN. Retrieved 12 April 2013. 
  9. ^ Robson, Ruthann (30 May 2009). "Dignity, Freedom and South African Constitutional Justice Ackerman: Robson's Saturday Evening Review". Constitutional Law Prof Blog. Retrieved 12 July 2011. 
  10. ^ de Vos, Pierre (21 July 2008). "Judiciary judged". Mail & Guardian. Retrieved 11 July 2011. 
  11. ^ Pillay, Verashni (10 July 2009). "'Africanise' SA's law?". News24. Retrieved 11 July 2011. 
  12. ^ "Zapiro defends Zuma cartoon". Polity. Sapa. 9 September 2009. Retrieved 11 July 2011. 
  13. ^ de Vos, Pierre (9 May 2012). "A note on Afrikaners and tribalism". Constitutionally Speaking. Retrieved 14 April 2013. 
  14. ^ "AIDS Legal Network". ALN. Retrieved 15 April 2013. 
  15. ^ "Annual Report 2010-2011". Triangle Project. Retrieved 15 April 2013. 
  16. ^ Kassiem, A'yesha (11 February 2004). "Gay nightclub admits to racial discrimination". IOL. Retrieved 13 April 2013. 
  17. ^ Hartleb, Thomas (7 February 2008). "Cape Town spy commission is unlawful, says Zille". Mail & Guardian. Retrieved 13 April 2013. 
  18. ^ Powell, Anel (16 April 2008). "DA launches court bids to halt commission". IOL. Retrieved 13 April 2013. 
  19. ^ de Vos, Pierre (16 April 2008). "Zille, Zillier, Zilliest". Thought Leader. Retrieved 13 April 2013. 
  20. ^ "Court rules that Erasmus commission is unconstitutional". Mail & Guardian. 1 September 2008. Retrieved 13 April 2013. 
  21. ^ Mtyala, Quinton (21 June 2009). "UCT law faculty's 'group of gangsters'". IOL. Retrieved 13 April 2013. 
  22. ^ de Vos, Pierre (19 June 2009). "Surprise! Paul Ngobeni is a liar". Constitutionally Speaking. Retrieved 13 April 2013. 
  23. ^ de Vos, Pierre (14 June 2009). "Joe Slovo case: the good, the bad and the (mostly) unstated". Constitutionally Speaking. Retrieved 12 April 2013. 
  24. ^ de Vos, Pierre (21 June 2010). "Pierre de Vos on Toilets, Helen Zille and the Human Rights Commission". Centre for Law and Social Justice. Retrieved 12 April 2013. 
  25. ^ Zille, Helen (13 October 2010). "Pierre de Vos's spectacular flip flop - Zille". Politicsweb. Retrieved 14 April 2013. 
  26. ^ de Vos, Pierre (2 July 2009). "The Rule of Law and 'conflicts of interests'". Constitutionally Speaking. Retrieved 12 April 2013. 
  27. ^ de Vos, Pierre (28 May 2010). "Amnesty International Human Rights Report on South Africa". Constitutionally Speaking. Retrieved 12 April 2013. 
  28. ^ de Vos, Pierre (9 September 2010). "In defense of the Internet". Constitutionally Speaking. Retrieved 12 April 2013. 
  29. ^ de Vos, Pierre (9 October 2010). "About glue and superglue". Constitutionally Speaking. Retrieved 12 April 2013. 
  30. ^ Grobler, Fienie (15 August 2011). "Constitutional law expert supports wealth tax". News24. Retrieved 13 April 2013. 
  31. ^ de Vos, Pierre (15 August 2011). "Where are you going to stand, my fellow white South Africans?". Constitutionally Speaking. Retrieved 13 April 2013.