Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The law provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, a generally effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press. Nevertheless, several apartheid-era laws and the Law on Antiterrorism permit authorities to restrict reporting on the security forces, prisons, and mental institutions.
In a March court judgment, Vicki Momberg was convicted of “crimen injuria” (unlawfully, intentionally, and seriously injuring the dignity of another person) for repeatedly addressing black police officers with a racial slur. She was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment without parole. Many human rights groups applauded the ruling–the first of its kind–but the Afrikaner rights group AfriForum called it a case of “double standards… a white person who insults a black person goes to prison, while a senior officer in the defense force who says that white people’s eyes and tongues must be stabbed out is simply asked nicely not to repeat it.”
Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.
According to the South African Advertising Research Foundation, print media reached 49 percent of the adult population. Despite the number and diversity of publications, the concentration of media ownership in a few large media groups drew criticism from the government and some political parties, which complained print media did not always adequately cover their points of view.
The state-owned South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) was criticized for violating its stated editorial independence in favor of progovernment reporting (see section 4, elections, and political participation). In January former independent television station (eNCA) presenter and journalist Chris Maroleng was hired as the SABC’s chief operating officer, and stated he was committed to promoting fair, balanced, and impartial coverage, to limit political interference, and to regain public trust in the SABC.
Nonprofit community radio stations played an important role in informing the mostly rural public, although these stations often had difficulty producing adequate content and maintaining quality staff. Community activists complained some community radio stations self-censored their programming because they were dependent on government advertising for revenue. Government broadcast regulators withdrew community radio licenses on a regular basis for noncompliance with the terms of issuance.
Talk radio broadcast in the country’s 11 official languages played a significant role in public debate, providing a forum for discussion by government officials, politicians, commentators, and average citizens.
Many in the public credited media with exposing corruption in former president Zuma’s administration and with his eventual resignation. For example, the online Daily Maverick’s investigative unit “amaBhungane and Scorpio” ran a series of stories exposing details regarding state capture by the politically connected Gupta family and the family’s level of influence on government officials and institutions.
Violence and Harassment: Journalists covering the ANC’s national elective conference reported security officers manhandled them to prevent their access to delegates. SABC journalists covering protests in North West Province reported being attacked and robbed by protesters. SABC journalists reported that soccer fans in Durban destroyed some of their media equipment. These incidents did not appear to be orchestrated attacks on media.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Government and political officials often criticized media for lack of professionalism and reacted sharply to media criticism, frequently accusing black journalists of disloyalty and white journalists of racism. Some journalists believed the government’s sensitivity to criticism resulted in increased media self-censorship.
Jacques Pauw, an investigative journalist and author of an expose of corruption in former president Zuma’s administration, was investigated by the Directorate of Priority Crime Investigation for allegedly using secret government documents as material for his book. The South African Revenue Service also filed charges against Pauw for violating confidentiality laws. Human rights activists charged that Pauw was targeted for exposing the corruption.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The law authorizes state monitoring of telecommunication systems, however, including the internet and email, for national security reasons. The law requires all service providers to register on secure databases the identities, physical addresses, and telephone numbers of customers.
According to the International Telecommunication Union, 56.2 percent of individuals used the internet in 2017.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
Unlike in prior years, there were no reports of government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY
The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, and the government generally respected this right. According to SAPS, from April 2017 through March there were 11,058 peaceful protests and an additional 3,583 demonstrations that turned violent. Protest action was most common in Gauteng, North West, Western Cape, and KwaZulu-Natal Provinces.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
The constitution provides for the right of association, and the government generally respected this right.