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.
c. Freedom of Religion
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government did not always respect these rights. The government cooperated with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. Nevertheless, refugee advocacy groups criticized the government’s processes for determining asylum and refugee status, citing large case backlogs, low approval rates, inadequate use of country-of-origin information, limited locations at which to request status, and susceptibility to corruption and abuse.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Refugee advocacy organizations stated that police and immigration officials abused refugees and asylum seekers. Xenophobic violence was a continuing problem across the country. Although no official data existed on this subject, Xenowatch, an open-source system for information collection and interactive mapping that allows crowd sourcing of xenophobia-related incidents, reported that 27 persons were killed, 77 persons were assaulted, 588 shops were looted, and 1,143 persons were displaced due to xenophobic incidents during the 18 months between February 2017 and August 31. According to Xenowatch, during that period xenophobic-related killings, assaults, and displacements declined, but the looting of foreign-owned or -managed shops increased.
Xenophobic violence occurred against foreign nationals, often refugees from Somalia, Ethiopia, or the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They often owned or managed small, informal township grocery stores. In May, Durban police were on high alert after the North Region Business Association sent letters to foreign national shop owners advising them to shut down their businesses in Inanda, Ntuzuma, and KwaMashu townships.
Although the DHA had anticorruption programs in place and punished officials or contracted security officers found to be accepting bribes, NGOs and asylum applicants reported that immigration authorities sought bribes from those seeking permits to remain in the country, particularly in cases where applicants’ documentation had expired.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum and refugee status, and the government has an established system for providing protection to refugees. According to local organizations, the DHA rejected the vast majority of refugee applications. There were more than one million refugees and asylum seekers at year’s end. An estimated 120,000 were granted refugee status. Government services strained to keep up with the caseload, and NGOs criticized the government’s implementation of the system as inadequate. According to UNHCR, the government registered 24,174 asylum seekers in 2017, a 46-percent decline from 2016.
The DHA operated only three processing centers for refugees but refused to transfer cases among facilities. The DHA thus required asylum seekers to return to the office at which they were originally registered to renew asylum documents, usually valid for only three months, which NGOs argued posed an undue hardship. During the year the government did not expand the number of reception centers, resulting in large backlogs. NGOs reported asylum seekers sometimes waited in line for days to access the reception centers.
Employment: According to NGOs, refugees and asylum seekers were regularly denied employment due to their immigration status.
Access to Basic Services: Although the law provides for access to basic services, including educational, police, and judicial services, NGOs stated that health-care facilities and law enforcement personnel discriminated against asylum seekers, migrants, and refugees. Some refugees reported they could not access schooling for their children. They reported that schools often refused to accept asylum documents as proof of residency.
One immigrant group stated the government would not recognize it as an official NGO because it did not have a bank account; however, no bank would issue an account to the group because its representatives lacked government-issued identification documents.
Temporary Protection: The government offered temporary protection to some individuals who may not qualify as refugees. The government allowed persons who applied for asylum to stay in the country while their claims were adjudicated and if denied, to appeal.