Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is illegal but remained a serious and pervasive problem. The minimum sentence for rape is 10 years in prison for the first offense, 15 years for the second, and 20 for the third. Under certain circumstances--such as multiple rapes, gang rapes, or the rape of a minor or a person with disabilities--conviction results in a minimum sentence of life imprisonment (25 years), unless substantial and compelling circumstances exist to justify a lesser sentence. Perpetrators with previous rape convictions and perpetrators aware of being HIV-positive at the time of the rape also face a minimum sentence of life imprisonment, unless substantial and compelling circumstances exist to justify a lesser sentence.
According to the 2011‑12 SAPS annual report, there were 31,299 sexual offense reports against women during the year; the actual incidence of rape was thought to be much higher. Numerous elderly women were among the victims. A 2009 report released by the Medical Research Council (MRC) stated that more than 25 percent of men interviewed in KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape provinces admitted to committing at least one rape, and more than half of those persons admitted to raping more than one person. In a 2011 study conducted in Gauteng Province by the MRC and Gender Links, 37.4 percent of men admitted to having committed one or more rapes.
In most cases attackers were friends or family members of the victim, which contributed to a reluctance to press charges, as did a poor security climate and societal attitudes condoning sexual violence against women. According to a 2008 study by the SAPS and the Center for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, only 4.1 percent of reported rape cases resulted in conviction. Poor police training and overburdened courts contributed to the low conviction rate.
On June 15, the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) overruled a decision by the Western Cape High Court entitled “S v Prins,” which stated that because there were no sentencing guidelines or penalties specified under the Sexual Offences Act of 2005, no offense covered under the act was punishable by law. The SCA ruled that courts had discretion to set sentences under common law, even when no sentences are specified in legislation. On June 23, President Zuma signed a new version of the act to close the loopholes in the law. The original ruling caused concern among advocates, who feared the decision would make it impossible for courts to punish sexual assaults until new legislation was passed. Observers noted, however, that rape convictions were never in danger of being overturned because rape penalties are covered in other legislation.
Allegations of rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment of black and foreign female farm workers by farm owners, managers, and other farm workers were common.
The government operated six dedicated sexual-offense courts throughout the country that included facilities such as waiting rooms, court preparation rooms, and closed caption television rooms for victims. Although judges in rape cases generally followed statutory sentencing guidelines, women's advocacy groups criticized judges for using criteria such as the victim’s behavior or relationship to the rapist as a basis for imposing lighter sentences. Critics also charged that support for dedicated sexual-offense courts had eroded, and that some of the previously dedicated courts were hearing other types of cases. As a result, sexual offense cases took longer to resolve, and conviction rates--which were previously the highest in the country--had decreased. However, the National Prosecuting Authority's Sexual Offenses and Community Affairs Unit (SOCA) reported that in 2011 the dedicated sexual offense courts functioned at a 38 percent higher conviction rate in comparison to non-specialized courts.
SOCA operated 52 Thuthuzela Care Centers (TCC) that specialized in rape care and streamlined a network of existing investigative, prosecutorial, medical, and psychological services in the hospitals where they were located.
Domestic violence cases were prosecuted under the charges of rape, indecent assault, damage to property, and violating a protection order. Domestic violence was pervasive and included physical, sexual, emotional, and verbal abuse, as well as harassment and stalking by former partners. The law facilitates the serving of protection orders on abusers, requires police to take victims to a place of safety, and allows police to seize firearms at the scene and to arrest abusers without a warrant. Violating a protection order is punishable by a prison sentence of up to five years, or 20 years if additional criminal charges are brought. Penalties for domestic violence include fines and sentences of between two and five years’ imprisonment.
According to NGOs, an estimated 25 percent of women were in an abusive relationship, but few reported it. A 2009 MRC report stated more than two-fifths of men interviewed in KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape provinces had been physically violent toward an intimate partner. In a 2011 report conducted by the MRC in Gauteng Province, more than 50 percent of men admitted to being physically violent towards women during their lifetime. TCC counselors also alleged that doctors, police officers, and judges often treated abused women poorly.
The government financed shelters for abused women, but more were needed, particularly in rural areas. The government continued to conduct domestic violence awareness campaigns. In honor of Women’s Month, the government hosted numerous events focused on empowering women in business, government, health, sports, and the arts.
Sexual Harassment: Although the law prohibits sexual harassment, it remained a widespread problem. The government left enforcement primarily to employers, with criminal prosecution a rare secondary step at the initiative of the complainant. The Department of Labor issued guidelines to employers on how to handle workplace complaints, which allow for remuneration of the victim’s lost compensation plus interest, additional damages, legal fees, and dismissal of the perpetrator in some circumstances. Tougher punishments can be generated for assault, which carries a range of penalties depending on the severity of the act, but only if the complainants press charges.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right, and were able to decide freely the number, spacing, and timing of their children, and to have the information and means to do so free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Contraception was widely available and free at government clinics. According to the Department of Health, 94 percent of women had access to prenatal care, while 84 percent had access to a skilled attendant at birth, except in the poorest communities where the rate was 68 percent. According to the UN Development Program, the maternal mortality ratio was 625 per 100,000 live births. To improve postnatal care, 72 percent of identified maternity facilities implemented the Basic Antenatal Care Program, up from 30 percent during the previous year. In 2011 health department personnel contacted 27 percent of new mothers within six postpartum days after they were discharged from a health facility.
In August 2011 HRW released the report Stop Making Excuses, which identified weaknesses in maternity care, particularly in Eastern Cape Province. The report attributed the country’s high maternal mortality rate to HIV/AIDS, poor administrative and financial management, poor quality of care, and lack of accountability in the health care system. The report documented alleged cases of neglectful and abusive behavior towards maternity patients by health care workers and included cases in which neglect resulted in patient death.
Discrimination: Discrimination against women remained a serious problem despite legal equality in inheritance, divorce, and child custody matters. Women experienced economic discrimination in areas such as wages, extension of credit, and ownership of land. For example, township housing transfer schemes favored existing titleholders, who tended to be men.
Many rural areas were administered through traditional patrilineal authorities, such as a chief or a council of elders. Such authorities did not grant land tenure to women, a precondition for access to housing subsidies.
Women, particularly black women, typically had lower incomes and less job security than men. Most women were engaged in poorly paid domestic labor and microenterprises, which did not provide job security or benefits. The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) provided incentive grants to promote the development of small- and medium-size businesses and microenterprises for women, young persons, and persons with disabilities. DTI also operated the Isivande Women’s Fund to improve women’s access to formal finance.
According to the 2011-12 Employment Equity Report, women held only 19.1 percent of top-level management positions and 28.2 percent of senior management positions, rates significantly lower than the government-mandated target of having 44.4 percent management positions filled by women. The Commission for Employment Equity released statistics showing that 62 percent of top managers in private companies were white men, while black women comprised only 3 percent, and Coloured (a heterogeneous, mixed race ethnicity recognized by the South African Government) and Indian women made up only 1.4 and 1.6 percent, respectively.
Female farm workers often experienced discrimination, and their access to housing frequently depended on their relationship to male farm workers. Female farm workers on maternity leave who could not obtain timely compensation through the Unemployment Insurance Fund often had to return to work shortly after giving birth, according to NGOs working with farm workers in Limpopo Province.
A number of governmental bodies, particularly the Commission for Gender Equality and the Department of Women, Children, and Persons with Disabilities monitored and promoted women’s rights, as did numerous NGOs.