South Africa is a multiparty parliamentary democracy in which constitutional power is shared among the executive, judiciary, and parliament branches. In May the country held a largely credible national election in which the ruling African National Congress (ANC) won 58 percent of the vote and 230 of 400 seats in the National Assembly. On May 25, ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa was sworn in for his first full term as president of the republic.
The South African Police Service (SAPS) has primary responsibility for internal security. The police commissioner has operational authority over police. The president appoints the police commissioner, but the minister of police supervises the commissioner. The South African National Defense Force (SANDF), under the civilian-led Department of Defense, is responsible for external security but also has domestic security responsibilities, such as patrolling the borders. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
Significant human rights issues included: arbitrary detention by the government, widespread official corruption, trafficking in persons, crimes involving violence targeting foreign nationals, crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons, and the worst forms of child labor.
Although the government investigated and prosecuted officials who committed abuses, there were numerous reports of impunity.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution and law provide 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 security forces, prisons, and mental institutions.
In August the Equality Court ruled that the gratuitous display of the apartheid-era national flag constituted hate speech. The Nelson Mandela Foundation argued the flag was a symbol of white supremacy. The Afrikaner-rights organization AfriForum argued that the use of the flag should not be considered hate speech, because “a flag is not a word,” but even if it were considered speech, it should be protected under the constitution’s freedom of speech provisions.
Violence and Harassment: Unlike in previous years, there were no reports journalists were subjected to violence, harassment, or intimidation due to their reporting.
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.
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.
There were no reports of government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. Nevertheless, NGOs reported many municipalities continued to require protest organizers to provide advance written notice before staging gatherings or demonstrations.
In prior years protest organizers could be legally required to notify local authorities before staging gatherings or demonstrations. In November 2018 the Constitutional Court ruled unanimously against this requirement. Legal experts welcomed the decision as an advance for civil liberties; however, they noted the ruling did not address the question of assuring security by local authorities during protests.
Despite the court ruling, NGOs reported many municipalities continued to require protest organizers to provide advance written notice, especially in small rural communities where organizers were often unaware of their rights. The NGO Right2Protest reported the city of Johannesburg classified protests as “special events” like marathons, and thus charged protest organizers fees to cover police security expenses. The NGO contended this practice violated the law on public gatherings. On February 20, videos posted to Twitter showed police firing on peaceful protesters in Cosmo City (Johannesburg). According to media, police used tear gas, stun grenades, and rubber bullets against a peaceful march demanding a local councilor step down.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
f. Protection of Refugees
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Refugee advocacy organizations stated police and immigration officials physically abused refugees and asylum seekers. Xenophobic violence was a continuing problem across the country, especially in Gauteng Province. In August and September, a spate of looting and violence in Johannesburg and Pretoria targeted foreign nationals, principally Nigerians and refugees from Somalia, Ethiopia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Those targeted often owned or managed small, informal grocery stores in economically marginalized areas that lacked government services. Police stated four individuals died and at least 27 suspects were arrested and charged with offenses ranging from disorderly conduct to illegal possession of firearms and homicide. By year’s end no trial dates had been set.
On social media immigrants were often blamed for increased crime and the loss of jobs and housing. The NGO Xenowatch reported 569 incidents of xenophobic violence occurred from January to August. According to researchers from the African Center for Migration and Society, perpetrators of crimes against foreign nationals were rarely prosecuted.
The government cooperated with 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 corruption and abuse. Despite DHA anticorruption programs that punished officials found to be accepting bribes, NGOs and asylum applicants reported immigration officials sought bribes from refugees seeking permits to remain in the country.
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 migrants’ rights organizations, the DHA rejected most refugee applications. According to civil society groups, the system lacked procedural safeguards for seeking protection and review for unaccompanied minors, trafficked victims, and victims of domestic violence. Government services strained to keep up with the caseload, and NGOs criticized the government’s implementation of the system as inadequate.
The DHA operated only four processing centers for asylum applications 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, which NGOs argued posed an undue hardship on those seeking asylum. 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 asylum seekers, migrants, and refugees to have access to basic services, including educational, police, and judicial services, NGOs stated health-care facilities and law enforcement personnel discriminated against them. Some refugees reported they could not access schooling for their children. They reported schools often refused to accept asylum documents as proof of residency. NGOs reported banks regularly denied services to refugees and asylum seekers because they lacked government-issued identification documents.
Durable Solutions: The government accepted some refugees for resettlement and, in collaboration with the International Organization for Migration, assisted some individuals in returning voluntarily to their countries of origin. In late 2018 the Supreme Court of Appeal extended citizenship to children born to foreign national parents who arrived in South Africa on or after January 1, 1995.
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.