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South Africa

Executive Summary

South Africa is a multiparty parliamentary democracy in which constitutional power is shared among the executive, judiciary, and parliament branches. In December 2017 the ruling African National Congress (ANC) elected then deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa as party president. On February 14, then president of the country Jacob Zuma announced he would step down. Of February 15, the National Assembly elected Ramaphosa to replace Zuma. In 2014 the country held a largely free and fair national election in which the ruling ANC won 62 percent of the vote and 249 of 400 seats in the National Assembly.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings by government agents; corruption; trafficking in persons; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons.

Although the government investigated and prosecuted officials who committed abuses, there were numerous reports of impunity.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Although the law prohibits such practices, there were reports that police and correctional officers moved nonviolent suspects under interrogation into cells with violent criminals. Police allegedly ignored activities in the cells as the violent criminals intimidated, beat, or raped suspects, after which police continued the interrogation. Police torture and physical abuse allegedly occurred during house searches, arrests, interrogations, and detentions, and sometimes resulted in death (see section 1.a.).

The United Nations reported that it received 16 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against peacekeepers from South African units deployed in the UN Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo during the year. The majority of cases alleged sexual exploitation (exploitative relationships, involving 11 peacekeepers and 11 victims; transactional sex, involving three peacekeepers and three victims). Sexual abuse (sexual assault, rape) was alleged in two cases, one of which involved a minor. Most UN investigations were pending. One allegation was substantiated according to a UN investigation. The peacekeeper in question was repatriated. Interim action was taken in three other cases. Seven allegations were reported in 2017, of which six remained under investigation (and one was closed because the subject died) at year’s end.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh due to overcrowding, poor sanitation and medical care, disease, particularly tuberculosis, inmate-on-inmate rape, and physical abuse, including torture.

Physical Conditions: In 2016 the national commissioner for correctional services appealed to government security agencies to reduce overcrowding in the country’s correctional facilities. In 2017 the High Court ordered that the Pollsmoor detention facility’s inmate population be reduced to 150 percent of capacity within six months. Some prisoners believed they would be taken further away from their families where relatives would not be able to visit them due to unaffordable travel costs.

From April 1, 2017, through March 31, the Judicial Inspectorate of Correctional Services (JICS) received 231 complaints of assaults on prisoners by correctional officers. The Judicial Inspectorate of Correctional Services (JICS) and a JICS-appointed Independent Correctional Center Visitor (ICCV) monitored prison conditions in each correctional center. Authorities recorded and verified monthly ICCV visits in official registers kept at all correctional centers. The visitors submitted monthly reports to the inspecting judge, listing the number and duration of visits, the number of inmates interviewed, and the number and nature of inmate complaints. There were reports of shortages of prison doctors, inadequate investigation and documentation of prisoner deaths, inadequate monitoring of the prison population, high suicide rates among prisoners, and a lack of financial independence for JICS. Some detainees awaiting trial contracted HIV/AIDS through rape. Media and NGOs also reported instances in which prisoners were tortured.

Corruption among prison staff remained a problem. For example, in April, two wardens were arrested allegedly for accepting bribes to help 16 inmates escape from a Johannesburg prison.

According to the 2017-18 Department of Correctional Services (DCS) annual report, the country’s correctional facilities held 160,583 prisoners in facilities designed to hold 118,723; the correctional system was 35 percent above capacity, up 3 percent from the previous year. Many prisoners had less than 13 square feet in which to eat, sleep, and spend 23 hours a day. To reduce overcrowding, the government transferred prisoners to facilities that were below capacity.

NGOs such as the Aurum Institute, Society for Family Health, and South Africa Partners provided correctional centers with HIV testing and antiretroviral therapy. According to the DCS 2017-18 annual report, 26,442 inmates were placed on antiretroviral treatment.

General health care in prisons was inadequate; 7,574 inmates filed health-care complaints. Prisons provided inmates with potable water, but supplies and food were occasionally inadequate, and sanitation was inadequate, according to JICS.

The 2017-18 DCS annual report noted prisons held 3,432 youths (individuals under age 25). Prisons sometimes held youths alongside adults, particularly in pretrial detention. Prisons generally held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners, although in some large urban areas dedicated pretrial facilities were available.

According to JICS, there were 569 prison deaths from April 1, 2017, through March 31, a 55-percent decrease from the prior 12 months. Natural causes accounted for 487 deaths, a 5-percent decline from the prior 12 months. The JICS report drew a correlation between deaths from natural causes and overcrowding, noting that less crowded conditions would likely result in a decrease of natural deaths. Inmate violence sometimes resulted in deaths.

JICS was the primary monitoring group for prisons but was not autonomous since the DCS controlled its budget. According to JICS, from April 1, 2017, through March 31, ICCVs collectively handled 119,836 cases, a 74-percent decrease from the prior 12 months. NGOs claimed the failure of the DCS to follow up on ICCV recommendations hindered the program’s effectiveness. They also claimed many ICCVs lacked independence in their oversight or reporting of abuses.

Local NGO Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) criticized conditions at the Lindela Repatriation Center, the country’s largest immigrant detention facility. According to LHR, detainees were subject to physical and verbal abuse, corruption and demands for bribes, insufficient food, lack of reading and writing materials, lack of access to recreational facilities or telephones, lack of access to and poor quality of medical care, indefinite detention without judicial review, and lack of procedural safeguards such as legal guidelines governing long-term detention.

The DCS required doctors to complete and sign reports of inmate deaths to lessen the likelihood that a death caused by neglect would be reported as natural. Nevertheless, the DCS failed to investigate many deaths due to an insufficient number of doctors.

Prisons provided detainees in cells with felt mattresses and blankets. Most cells had toilets and basins but often lacked chairs, adequate light, and ventilation. Food, sanitation, and medical care in detention centers were similar to those in prisons.

Prisoners with mental illness sometimes failed to receive psychiatric care.

Administration: Authorities did not always conduct proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment. JICS recommended the DCS have an ombudsman to address juvenile confinement and improve procedures to make confinement unnecessary, but the DCS had not implemented the change by year’s end.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions, including visits by human rights organizations, which were required to apply for permission to gain access. Organizations’ requests for permission to visit prisons to conduct specific research were sometimes granted.

Section 7. Worker Rights

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is no legally mandated national minimum wage, although the law gives the Department of Labor authority to set wages by sector, which it has done in approximately 13 employment sectors. For example, effective in March the department increased the minimum wage for farm workers to 16.25 rand ($1.25) per hour. The minimum hourly wage for domestic workers employed more than 27 hours per week was raised to 13.05 rand ($1.00) per hour for employees in the urban areas and to 11.8 rand ($0.91) for employees in semiurban and rural areas. Established minimum wages exceeded the poverty level. The government provided free housing for some employees earning less than 3,500 rand ($270) per month, free health care, and, in some areas, no-fee schooling to assist the children of low-income earners. The law protects migrant workers, and they are entitled to all benefits and equal pay.

The law establishes a 45-hour workweek, standardizes time-and-a-half pay for overtime, and authorizes four months of maternity leave for women. No employer may require or permit an employee to work overtime except by agreement, and overtime may not be more than 10 hours a week. The law stipulates rest periods of 12 consecutive hours daily and 36 hours weekly and must include Sunday. The law allows adjustments to rest periods by mutual agreement. A ministerial determination exempted businesses employing fewer than 10 persons from certain provisions of the law concerning overtime and leave. Farmers and other employers could apply for variances from the law by showing good cause. The law applies to all workers, including workers in informal sectors, foreign nationals, and migrant workers, but the government did not prioritize labor protections for workers in the informal economy.

The government set appropriate occupational health and safety standards through the Department of Mineral Resources for the mining industry and through the Department of Labor for all other industries.

There are harsh penalties for violations of occupational health laws in the mining sector. Employers are subject to heavy fines or imprisonment for serious injury, illness, or the death of employees due to unsafe mine conditions. The law allows mine inspectors to enter any mine at any time to interview employees and audit records. The law provides for the right of mine employees to remove themselves from work deemed dangerous to health or safety. The law prohibits discrimination against a mining employee who asserts a right granted by law and requires mine owners to file annual reports providing statistics on health and safety incidents for each mine. Conviction of violation of the mining health and safety law is punishable by two years’ imprisonment, and the law empowers the courts to determine a fine or penalty applicable for perjury. The Department of Mineral Resources was responsible for enforcing the mining health and safety law.

The government set separate standards for compensation of occupational diseases for the mining industry and for other industries. The Department of Health’s fund related to the Occupational Diseases in Mines and Works Act reported that only 33,045 former mineworkers were certified as having silicosis as of 2014, but the final figure could be between 50,000 and 100,000. The fund has set aside 3.7 billion rand ($286 million) to deal with the backlog and compensate former mineworkers. Additionally, in 2016 the Johannesburg High Court certified class action against 32 gold-mining companies operating in the country from 1965 to the present by mineworkers suffering from silicosis and tuberculosis contracted at the companies’ mines. The companies were accused of insufficiently protecting black workers in particular from contracting lung-related diseases. The class-action certification paved the way for nearly 500,000 existing and former mineworkers to receive compensation from mining companies. In May, six major mining companies and their workers agreed on a five billion rand ($386 million) settlement. Beneficiaries are to receive between 70,000 rand ($5,400) each for claimants in early stages of silicosis and 500,000 rand ($38,600) each for those with a “special aggravated medical condition.”

Outside the mining industry, no laws or regulations permit workers to remove themselves from work situations deemed dangerous to their health or safety without risking loss of employment, although the law provides that employers may not retaliate against employees who disclose dangerous workplace conditions. Employees were also able to report unsafe conditions to the labor department, which used employee complaints as a basis for prioritizing labor inspections. Conviction of violation of health and safety regulations outside the mining sector is punishable by a fine of 100,000 rand ($7,720), imprisonment for a period not exceeding two years, or both. The Department of Labor was responsible for enforcing safety laws outside the mining sector.

The Department of Labor is responsible for enforcing wage standards outside the mining sector, and a tripartite Mine Health and Safety Council and an Inspectorate of Mine Health and Safety enforced such standards in the mining sector. Penalties for violations of wages and work-hour laws outside the mining sector were not sufficient to deter abuses.

The Department of Labor employed 1,295 labor inspectors, an insufficient number to enforce compliance. For example, 107 government labor inspectors in Western Cape Province had responsibility for more than 6,600 farms as well as other businesses and sectors. Labor inspectors conducted routine and unannounced inspections at various workplaces that employed vulnerable workers. Labor inspectors investigated workplaces in both the formal and informal sectors. Labor inspectors and unions reported having difficulty visiting workers on private farms.

In 2016-17 the Department of Labor reported it conducted 144,061 labor inspections and identified 20,515 cases of noncompliance. The department issued violation notices and referred cases for prosecution. In 2016-17 officials audited 22,967 workplaces to determine their compliance with occupational and safety laws; 15,929 were in compliance.

The government did not effectively enforce the law in all sectors. Occupational safety and health regulations were frequently violated in the mining sector, and compensation for injuries was erratic and slow. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. Unions in the agriculture sector noted their repeated attempts to have the Labor Department fine farms that failed to shield workers from hazardous chemicals sprayed on crops. Although labor conditions improved on large commercial farms, COSATU and leading agricultural NGOs reported that labor conditions on small farms remained harsh. Underpayment of wages and poor living conditions for workers, most of whom were black, were common. Many owners of small farms did not measure working hours accurately, 12-hour workdays were common during harvest time, and few farmers provided overtime benefits. Amendments to the Basic Conditions of Employment Act attempted to address some labor abuses at farms. For example, changes prohibited farms from selling farm employees’ goods from farm-operated stores on credit at inflated prices.

Farm workers also reported health and sanitation concerns. In a 2017 report, the NGO Women on Farms Project reported that 63 percent of the female farm workers surveyed did not have access to bathroom facilities and were forced to seek a bush or a secluded spot. The report also included the responses of female farm workers and their children who reported suffering from health problems such as skin rashes, cholinesterase depression, poisoning, harmful effects on the nervous system, and asthma due to pesticides to which they were exposed.

Mining accidents were common. Mine safety improved over prior decades, however. In 1995, 553 miners lost their lives in the country. As of July only 130 miners had died from accidents during the preceding 18 months.

In June, five miners died of heat and exhaustion after entering an area not being used for mining. Parts of the gold mine, located near Westonaria, were considered unsafe and were supposed to be cordoned off.

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