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During colonialism and apartheid, seemingly arbitrary laws dictating who could live where, with whom, and who could farm whose land, and when, were introduced to entrench white economic and political power. The callousness of these laws shocked the world, but their ideological origins were not exceptional: common to all colonial contexts is the belief that colonisers know what is best for the colonised, and that colonisers are therefore entitled to make choices for the colonised, on their behalf, without their knowledge or consent.

In repudiation of this disgraceful past, SA’s post-1994 legislature and judiciary afford profound importance to the value of autonomy, seeing it as integral to the constitutional values of freedom, equality and dignity. SA has been a leader in ensuring people’s individual autonomy and freedom over the decisions that affect their lives, whether it be women’s right to choose whether to have an abortion, or all citizens’ (including prisoners’) right to...

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