Justice versus Social Justice in South Africa: Quo vadis?


  • Marelize Isabel Schoeman University of South Africa




criminal justice, social justice, retributive justice


This article explores the concept of criminal justice as a formal process in which parties are judged and often adjudged from the paradigmatic perspective of legal guilt versus legal innocence. While this function of a criminal-justice system is important – and indeed necessary – in any ordered society, a society in transition such as South Africa must question the underlying basis of justice. This self-reflection must include an overview questioning whether the criminal-justice system and its rules are serving the community as originally intended or have become a self-serving function of state in which the final pursuit is outcome-driven as opposed to process-driven. The process of reflection must invariably find its genesis in the question: ‘What is justice?’ While this rhetorical phraseology has become trite through overuse, the author submits that the question remains of prime importance when considered contemporarily but viewed through the lens of historical discourse in African philosophy. In essence, the question remains unanswered. Momentum is added to this debate by the recent movement towards a more human rights and restorative approach to justice as well as the increased recognition of traditional legal approaches to criminal justice. This discussion is wide and in order to delimit its scope the author relies on a Socratically influenced method of knowledge-mining to determine the philosophical principles underpinning the justice versus social justice discourse. It is proposed that lessons learned from African philosophies about justice and social justice can be integrated into modern-day justice systems and contribute to an ordered yet socially oriented approach to justice itself.

Author Biography

Marelize Isabel Schoeman, University of South Africa

The authhor is an Associate Professor at the Department of Criminology and Security Science,

School of Criminal Justice, College of Law.



How to Cite

Schoeman, Marelize Isabel. 2021. “Justice Versus Social Justice in South Africa: Quo Vadis? ”. Journal of Law, Society and Development 6 (1):15 pages. https://doi.org/10.25159/2520-9515/4259.



Received 2018-04-30
Accepted 2019-03-04
Published 2021-01-20