Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes domestic violence and rape of men or women, including spousal rape, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. The minimum sentence for conviction of rape is 10 years’ imprisonment. 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 requires a minimum sentence of life imprisonment, 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.
In most cases of rape and domestic violence, attackers were acquaintances or family members of the survivor that, together with societal attitudes, contributed to a reluctance to press charges. NGOs stated that cases were underreported, especially in rural communities, due to stigma, unfair treatment, fear, intimidation, and lack of trust in the criminal justice system. SAPS reported a decrease in the number of reported rape cases from 42,289 in 2019/20 to 36,463 in 2020/21. According to first-quarter SAPS crime statistics, 10,006 persons were raped between April and June 2021. Police Minister Bheki Cele released crime statistics that 9,556 rape cases were reported between July and September. There were numerous reports of rapes by police officers of sex workers, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons, incarcerated persons, and others (see also section 1.c.).
There were numerous reported sexual assaults such as the following example. In June 2020 a woman eight months pregnant was found dead hanging from a tree in Johannesburg. She and her fetus had multiple stab wounds. Muzikayise Malephane was arrested and charged with premeditated murder. In February he was sentenced to 20 years in prison for murder, five years for defeating the ends of justice, and five years for possession of an illegal firearm and ammunition.
According to the National Prosecuting Authority 2019-2020 Annual Report, the authority achieved its highest number of successfully prosecuted sexual offense cases ever during that time period. It prosecuted 5,451 sexual offense cases and had 4,098 convictions, a 75 percent conviction rate.
The Department of Justice operated 96 dedicated sexual offenses courts throughout the country. 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 government provided funding for, and the National Prosecuting Authority operated 51 rape management centers, addressing the rights and needs of survivors and vulnerable persons, including legal assistance. A key objective of the centers was prosecution of sexual, domestic violence, and child-abuse offenders. Approximately 75 percent of the cases they took to trial resulted in convictions.
Domestic violence was pervasive and included physical, sexual, emotional, and verbal abuse, as well as harassment and stalking. During the pandemic, NGOs and the government documented an escalation of gender-based violence against women and girls. The government prosecuted domestic violence cases under laws governing rape, indecent assault, damage to property, and violating a protection order. 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 up to five years’ imprisonment and up to 20 years’ imprisonment if convicted of additional criminal charges. Penalties for conviction of domestic violence include fines and sentences of between two and five years’ imprisonment.
During the year media documented a rise in teenage pregnancies particularly during the pandemic with the South African Medical Research Council attributing violence against women and girls as a contributor to these pregnancies along with difficulty faced by adolescents in obtaining contraceptives. In December the basic education minister published a new policy on prevention and management of teenage pregnancy. Under the policy, schools are mandated to report to SAPS cases of statutory rape, if a girl is younger than age 16 and the father of the unborn child is 16 or older.
The government financed shelters for abused women, but NGOs reported a shortage of such facilities, particularly in rural areas, and that women were sometimes turned away from shelters.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C of girls and women, but girls in isolated zones in ethnic Venda communities in Limpopo Province were subjected to the practice. The government continued initiatives to eradicate the practice, including national research and sensitization workshops in areas where FGM/C was prevalent.
Sexual Harassment: Although prohibited by law, sexual harassment remained a widespread problem. Sexual harassment is a criminal offense for which conviction includes fines and sentences of up to five years’ imprisonment.
Enforcement against workplace harassment is initially left to employers to address as part of internal disciplinary procedures. The Department of Employment and Labour (Department of Labour) issued guidelines to employers on how to handle workplace complaints that allow for remuneration of a victim’s lost compensation plus interest, additional damages, legal fees, and dismissal of the perpetrator in some circumstances. NGOs and unions urged the government to ratify the International Labor Organization (ILO) convention on the prevention of violence and harassment in the workplace. Despite presidential support, parliament had yet to ratify the convention by year’s end.
NGOs reported sexual harassment of women in the major political parties. Only two of the seven major parties had policies against sexual harassment.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of forced abortion on the part of government authorities; however, during the year there were reports of forced sterilizations submitted to the Commission for Gender Equality and civil society organizations.
Couples and individuals have the right to decide freely the number, spacing, and timing of their children. The full range of contraception methods were available at all primary health-care clinics for free. Emergency health care was available for the treatment of complications arising from unsafe abortion.
The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. The country has laws and policies to respond to gender-based violence and femicide, although authorities did not fully implement these policies and enforce relevant law. The law provides for survivors of gender-based violence to receive shelter and comprehensive care, including treatment of injuries, a forensic examination, pregnancy and HIV testing, provision of postexposure prophylaxis, and counseling rehabilitation services.
According to the Saving Mothers Report 2017/2019, there has been a progressive and sustained reduction in institutional maternal mortality in the past three triennia (2010-19), from 320 per 100,000 live births to 120 per 100,000 live births. The report further identified that a significant systemic driver contributing to mortality was the length of time it took for emergency service personnel to arrive at a facility where a skilled birth attendant can deal with an emergency. Furthermore, the government developed a Framework and Guidelines for Maternal and Neonatal Care during a Crisis: COVID-19 response to strengthen Maternal, Perinatal, and Neonatal services for emergency preparedness and management.
Menstruation and access to menstruation hygiene affected girls’ attendance at school. One NGO estimated 30 percent of girls did not attend school while they menstruated, due to lack of access to sanitary products. During the year observers noted substantial increases in teenage pregnancies, which also affected girls’ attendance at school.
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, 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 could challenge traditional land tenure discrimination in courts, but access to legal counsel was costly.
By law 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 law expressly prohibits unequal pay for work of equal value and discriminatory practices, including separate pension funds for different groups in a company (see section 7.d.).