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. Under certain circumstances, such as second or third offenses, 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.
No action was taken against the man who raped a nine-year-old girl in January 2014, set her on fire, and left her for dead; prosecutors withdrew the charges when the girl died because they predicated the case on her testimony. Although prosecutors said they would recharge the suspect once additional forensic evidence was processed, no charges were filed by year’s end.
In its 2014-15 report, SAPS did not provide a gender breakdown of crimes committed against women. SAPS recorded a decrease in reported sexual crimes (perpetrated against men and women), with 53,617 cases reported compared with 56,680 cases in the previous year.
In a 2011 study conducted in Gauteng Province by the Medical Research Council of South Africa and Gender Links, 37.4 percent of men admitted to having committed one or more rapes, and 25 percent of women admitted being a victim of sexual violence in their lifetime.
In most cases attackers were acquaintances or family members of the victim, which contributed to a reluctance to press charges, as did a poor security climate and societal attitudes. According to the 2014-15 NPA annual report, the conviction rate for sexual offense crimes was 69 percent, although watchdog groups estimated the rate was 4 percent because it did not include the many credible cases that never made it to trial. Prosecutors chose not to prosecute many cases due to insufficient evidence. Poor police training, insufficient forensic lab capacity, a lack of trauma counseling for victim witnesses, and overburdened courts contributed to the low conviction rate. The NPA did not track the length of time required for cases to reach trial, but, according to media reports, it could take between six months and three years for a rape case to reach trial, depending on the complexity of the case and the plea of the accused.
The Department of Justice operated 36 dedicated sexual-offense courts throughout the country. Sexual-offense courts included facilities such as private waiting rooms, court preparation rooms, and closed-circuit television rooms for victims, all in an attempt to provide additional privacy and prevent secondary victimization. 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.
The NPA operated 53 rape centers, or TCCs (see section 1.e.). All TCCs were located at hospitals, either within the hospital or in a mobile unit on hospital grounds. Of rape cases brought to TCCs, 47 percent went to trial and were terminated--either by conviction or by acquittal--within nine months from the date a victim reported the case.
Domestic violence was pervasive and included physical, sexual, emotional, and verbal abuse, as well as harassment and stalking. The government prosecuted domestic violence cases under laws governing rape, indecent assault, damage to property, and violating a protection order. The law facilitates protection orders against abusive individuals, 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. The law requires police to protect victims from domestic violence, but police commanders did not always hold officers accountable. Conviction of violating a protection order is punishable by a prison sentence of up to five years, or up to 20 years if additional criminal charges apply. Penalties for domestic violence include fines and sentences of between two and five years’ imprisonment.
On August 31, an air force colonel in KwaZulu-Natal Province threw two hand grenades at his wife following a domestic argument. One exploded and killed her. Police arrested the colonel and charged him with illegal possession of explosives and murder. A judge denied him bail, and the trial continued at year’s end.
NGOs estimated 25 percent of women were in abusive relationships, but few reported it. The 2015 Southern African Development Community Gender Protocol Gender Barometer (a survey compiled by Gender Links) found 77 percent of women in Limpopo Province, 51 percent of women in Gauteng Province, 39 percent of women in Western Cape Province, and 37 percent of women in KwaZulu-Natal Province reported they experienced some form of gender-based violence. TCC counselors also alleged that doctors, police officers, and judges often treated abused women poorly.
The government financed shelters and rape-support centers for abused women, but more were needed, particularly in rural areas. The government conducted rape and 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. The discussions generated controversy, however, because the government focused on men’s role in protecting women, while civil society advocated a more inclusive focus on gender-based violence. Many civil society organizations were also dissatisfied with the Ministry of Women’s general focus on women’s economic empowerment while neglecting the issue of gender-based violence. During the internationally observed 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, between November 25 and December 10, the government hosted a number of roundtable discussions.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C, but girls in isolated zones in ethnic Venda communities in the Northeast were subjected to the practice. The government continued initiatives to eradicate the practice, including national research and sensitization workshops where FGM/C was prevalent.
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 that 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 are imposed for assault that carry a range of penalties depending on the severity of the act but require the complainant to press charges.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide freely the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; 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, although only 60 percent of sexually active women had access to contraceptives, according to the Gender Links 2015 Barometer. Emergency health care was available for the treatment of complications arising from abortion.
According to the Department of Health, the antenatal care coverage rate was 98.5 percent. According to the country’s 2010 Millennium Development Goal Report posted by the UN Development Program, the maternal mortality ratio was 269 per 100,000 live births. The government and numerous international organizations continued efforts to reduce the maternal mortality rate through a variety of pilot projects. During the year the government partnered with a foreign government to form “MomConnect,” an SMS (short message service) based messaging service to provide health information to pregnant women; the service enrolled approximately 500,000 mothers by year’s end. Primary challenges were low awareness among mothers of available antenatal care, the high HIV/AIDS rate, poor administrative and financial management, poor quality of care, and lack of accountability in the health-care system.
Discrimination: Discrimination against women remained a serious problem despite legal equality in family, labor, property, inheritance, nationality, divorce, and child custody matters. Women experienced economic discrimination in wages (see section 7.d.), extension of credit, and ownership of land.
Traditional patrilineal authorities, such as a chief or a council of elders, administered many rural areas. Some traditional authorities refused to grant land tenure to women, a precondition for access to housing subsidies. Women may challenge traditional land tenure decisions in national courts, but access to legal counsel was costly.
The Employment Equity Amendment Act aims to promote equality in the workplace. According to the act, any difference in the terms or conditions of employment among employees of the same employer performing the same, substantially similar, or equal value work constitutes discrimination. The act expressly prohibits unequal pay for work of equal value and discriminatory practices, including unequal pay and separate pension funds for different groups in a company (see section 7.d.). In June the government adopted a Code of Good Practice to provide employers and employees with practical guidance on the equal pay principle of the act.
Women, particularly black women, typically had lower incomes and less job security than did men. Many women were engaged in poorly paid domestic labor and microenterprises that did not provide job security or benefits. The Department of Trade and Industry provided incentive grants to promote the development of small and medium-size businesses and microenterprises for women, young persons, and persons with disabilities. The department also operated the Isivande Women’s Fund to improve women’s access to formal finance.
According to the 2014-15 Employment Equity Report produced by the labor department’s Commission for Employment Equity, women held 20.9 percent of top management and 32.1 percent of senior management positions--rates significantly lower than the government target of 44.4 percent of management positions filled by women.
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 returned to work shortly after giving birth, according to NGOs working with farm workers.
The minister of women in the Presidency, the Commission for Gender Equality, the Commission for Employment Equity, and a number of other government bodies monitored and promoted women’s rights, as did numerous NGOs and labor unions.