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Vol 23 No 6 June/July 2018

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Southern Cross: Civil Law and Common Law in South Africa

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Edited by: Reinhard Zimmermann, Daniel Visser

ISBN13: 9780198260875
ISBN: 0198260873
Published: July 1996
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Country of Publication: UK
Format: Hardback
Price: £172.50

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This book provides a history of some of the main institutions of South African private law and in so doing explores the process through which integration of the English common law and the continental civil law came about in that jurisdiction. Here is a book aimed at both European and South African audiences. For European lawyers it provides a stimulating insight into the way the process of harmonization of private law has occurred in South Africa and may occur within the European Union.

By analysing the historical evolution of the most important institutions of the law of obligations and the law of property the book demonstrates how the two legal traditions have been accommodated within one system. The starting point for each essay is the "pure" Roman-Dutch law as it was transplanted to the Cape of Good Hope in the years following 1652. The analysis focuses on how the Roman-Dutch law has been preserved, changed, modified or replaced in the course of the nineteenth century when the Cape became a British colony; and on what happened after the creation of the union of South Africa in 1910.

Each essay therefore attempts, in the field of law with which it is dealing, to answer questions such as:-

  • What was the level of interaction between the civil law and the common law?
  • What were the mechanisms that brought about the particular form of competition, coexistence or fusion that exists in that area of law?
  • Is the process complete or is it still continuing?
  • Is it possible to observe the emergence, from these two routes, of a genuinely South African private law?
  • How is the result to be evaluated?
In establishing reception patterns at the level of specific areas of law, they go beyond generalization about the compatibility of the two traditions and present evidence of a possible symbiosis of English and Continental law.

For South African readers the principal value of the book is that it offers essays by the most prominent South African private lawyers refelecting on the history of their subjects. It therefore constitutes the first stage in the writing of a history of substantive private law in South Africa. So far the focus has mainly been on the so called "external history" of South African law, and such texts as there are on the development of the institutions of private law are often in Afrikaans and mainly to be found in unpublished theses. Thus this book fulfils a real need for those teaching South African private law and legal history.

Although the volume investigates a specific aspect of the making of modern South African law it is imperative not to lose sight of the fact that private law in that country, as every way else did not develop in a vacuum, but as part of a wider political and social prcess. For this reason the book opens with an essay which contextualizes the contributions that follow, giving a view of the "setting" in which the development of South Africa took place: colonial domination, cultural imperialism, and racial and nationalistic ideologies.

Two further introductory essays pay specific attention to the impact of the procedural framework on the substantive private law and to the "architects" of the mixed system.