Besides South Africa itself, South African law, especially its civil law and common law elements, also forms the basis of the laws of Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Eswatini and Zimbabwe, which were introduced during the process of colonisation. Basutoland (Lesotho) received the law of the Cape Colony in 1884, and Bechuanaland (Botswana) and Southern Rhodesia (Zi
Besides South Africa itself, South African law, especially its civil law and common law elements, also forms the basis of the laws of Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Eswatini and Zimbabwe, which were introduced during the process of colonisation. Basutoland (Lesotho) received the law of the Cape Colony in 1884, and Bechuanaland (Botswana) and Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) received it in 1891. Swaziland (Eswatini) received the law of the Transvaal Colony in 1904, and South-West Africa (Namibia) received the law of the Cape Province in 1920, after its conquest by South Africa.
The South African court system is organized in a clear hierarchically by Chapter 8 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, specifically s166, and consists of (from lowest to highest legal authority):
Secondly, a single High Court with multiple divisions across the country, both regional (having jurisdiction over the entire province) and smaller local division (having a geographically smaller jurisdiction, usually over a heavily populated regions) introduced by the Superior Courts Act, 2013. This is clearly seen in Gauteng which has both the High Court of South Africa Gauteng Division, Pretoria which sits in Pretoria, and the High Court of South Africa Gauteng Local Division, Johannesburg which sits in Johannesburg. All High Court names have been clarified by the Chief Justice and can be read on page 14 of the South African Government Gazette No. 37390, 28 February 2014.
Thirdly, the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA), a purely appellate court (court of second instance). While previously both the SCA and Constitutional Court held joint apex jurisdiction/position; the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution of South Africa, altered the hierarchy so that the Constitutional Court sitting in Johannesburg is the apex court, with the SCA below it, and the High Court below the SCA.
And finally, the Constitutional Court, which is the highest authority in constitutional matters, and since the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution of South Africa, the highest court in the land for both constitutional matters and all other matters. This position is legally confirmed and constitutionally entrenched by Section 167(3)(b)(ii) of the Constitution of South Africa which states that the Constitutional Court may decide "any other matter, if the Constitutional Court grants leave to appeal on the grounds that the matter raises an arguable point of law of general public importance which ought to be considered by that Court". The Constitutional Court has final authority to decide whether an issue is Constitutional or not; s167(3)(c) of the Constitution of South Africa.
In addition, a number of specialized courts have also been created by the legislation in order to deal with specialized areas of law important to the public as well as to avoid a backlog in the main legal administration infrastructure. These courts exist alongside the court hierarchy; their decisions are thus subject to the same process of appeal and review through the normal courts, starting at a specific level depending on the specialized court in question. Within these specialized courts, there exist, to name a few, the Competition Appeal Court, the Electoral Court, the Land Claims Court, and the Labour and Labour Appeal Court.
In addition, African indigenous courts, which deal exclusively with the indigenous law, also exist. A draft Traditional Courts Bill aimed at introducing a Traditional Court below, or on the same level as the Magistrates Courts has been penned, but awaits parliamentary introduction, reading and debate.
With the failure of the indigenous inhabitants as well as the successive Dutch and British colonial governments to record the laws of pre-colonial southern Africa, there is a dearth of information about laws prior to the colonisation of South Africa.[ However, the current South African legal system has recognised the significance of these, and they have been incorporated into the overall legal system, functioning as district/local courts where appropriate.
From 6 April 1652 landing of the Dutch in the Cape of Good Hope, the Roman-Dutch legal system and its legislation and laws took increasing hold, holding sway until the Union of South Africa as a dominion of the British Empire was formed on 31 May 1910. Even after this and to date, wherever English law does not stand, Roman-Dutch law forms the bedrock to which South Africa turns in its search for clarity in its law.
From the union of the Cape Colony, Natal, Transvaal and Orange Free State in 1910 as a dominion within the British Empire called the Union of South Africa, and prior to the formation of the Republic of South Africa in 1961, much of English law was incorporated into or formed the basis of South African law. The jury system was abolished in 1969, and cases are decided by a judge alone, sometimes assisted by two assessors. English law and the Roman-Dutch law which held sway prior to this period form the bedrock to which South Africa even now turns in its search for clarity in its law, and where there is a vacuum in its law.