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:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
Police use of lethal and excessive force, including torture, resulted in numerous deaths and injuries, according to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID), Amnesty International, and other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
In August, three police officers in KwaZulu-Natal Province were arrested for torturing three men who had been detained for questioning regarding a homicide. One of the three detained men died from injuries inflicted by the officers. At year’s end a task force was investigating the case.
According to the 2017-18 IPID annual report, 436 persons died in police custody or due to police action during the 12 months from April 2017 to April 2018, an 11-percent increase from the prior 12 months. IPID recommended prosecution in 112 of the instances.
A death resulting from police action was defined as a death that occurred while a police officer attempted to make an arrest, prevent an escape, or engage in self-defense; it also covered collisions involving one or more South African Police Service (SAPS) or municipal police vehicles as well as mass actions where police officers were present. IPID did not track deaths resulting from torture, which it classified as homicide. Watchdog groups noted deaths in custody often resulted from physical abuse combined with a lack of medical treatment or neglect (see section 1.c.).
Officials at the highest levels of government recognized the prevalence of political killings needed to be addressed. In May the president categorized KwaZulu-Natal’s political killings as a “matter of national concern,” called for the violence to cease, and ordered a high-level inquiry into the problem. Although interparty killings took place, media and NGOs claimed the vast majority were a result of intra-ANC disputes at the local level. Killings often occurred in the context of a competition for resources or positions, or whistleblowers targeted for uncovering corruption.
In September the Moerane Commission, which KwaZulu-Natal Province Premier Willies Mchunu established in 2016 to investigate political killings, published its report, which identified ANC infighting, readily available hitmen, weak leadership, and ineffective and complicit law enforcement agencies as key contributing factors to the high rate of killings. Despite government attention to the problem, political killings in the country, and specifically in KwaZulu-Natal Province, continued.
There were numerous reported killings similar to the following example. In May a prominent ANC activist and an Inkatha Freedom Party municipal councilor were shot and killed on the same day.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
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.
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of arrest or detention in court. Unlike in prior years, the government generally observed these requirements.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
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, under the civilian-led Department of Defense, is responsible for external security but also has domestic security responsibilities, such as patrolling the borders. Border Control Operational Coordinating Committees–composed of SAPS, Department of Home Affairs (DHA), defense force, South African Revenue Service, Department of Health, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Department of Transportation, Department of Trade and Industry, State Security Agency, and Department of Environmental Affairs representatives–are charged with overall migration and border enforcement. A committee representative is present at all land, air, and sea ports of entry to facilitate an interagency approach to border enforcement and migration management. The departments each have a representative at major border crossings; regional representatives covered lesser border crossings. The SAPS Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (the “Hawks”) coordinates efforts against organized crime, priority crimes, and official corruption. Despite efforts to professionalize, SAPS remained understaffed, ill equipped, and poorly trained. Corruption continued to be a problem (see section 4).
Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces, and the government had effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. The government investigated and prosecuted security force members who committed abuses, although there were numerous reports of police impunity, including of high-ranking members. IPID investigates complaints and makes recommendations to SAPS and to the National Prosecution Authority (NPA) on which cases to prosecute. IPID examines all SAPS killings and evaluates whether they occurred in the line of duty and if they were justifiable. IPID also investigates cases of police abuse, although it was unable to fulfill its mandate due to inadequate cooperation by police, lack of investigative capacity, and other factors. When it did complete investigations, the NPA often declined to prosecute cases involving criminal actions by police and rarely obtained convictions. In cases in which IPID recommended disciplinary action, SAPS often failed to follow IPID disciplinary recommendations.
The law provides IPID with additional enforcement powers and requires SAPS and metropolitan police departments to report any suspected legal violations by their own officers to IPID. The law criminalizes the failure to report wrongdoing; from April 2017 to April 2018 IPID recorded 69 cases in which SAPS or metropolitan police departments failed to report wrongdoing to IPID.
Security forces failed to prevent or adequately respond to societal violence, particularly in response to attacks on foreign nationals (see sections 2.d. and 6).
Some SAPS and metropolitan police department officers received training in ethics, human rights, corruption, sexual offenses, domestic violence, gender violence, and violence against LGBTI persons. SAPS also provided officers with access to social workers, psychologists, and chaplains. SAPS investigations of gender-based violence (GBV) crimes and crimes against LGBTI individuals were often insufficient.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
The law requires that a judge or magistrate issue arrest warrants based on sufficient evidence. Police must promptly inform detainees of the reasons for their detention, their right to remain silent, and the consequences of waiving that right. Police must charge detainees within 48 hours of arrest, hold them in conditions respecting human dignity, allow them to consult with legal counsel of their choice at every stage of their detention (or provide them with state-funded legal counsel), and permit them to communicate with relatives, medical practitioners, and religious counselors. The government often did not respect these rights. Police must release detainees (with or without bail) unless the interests of justice require otherwise, although bail for pretrial detainees often exceeded what suspects could pay.
Human rights groups, judges, and judicial scholars expressed concern regarding the Criminal Procedure Second Amendment Act, which allows pretrial detention of children and prohibits bail in certain cases. Some judges also expressed concern that police and the courts often construed the exercise of the right to remain silent as an admission of guilt.
Arbitrary Arrest: During the year there were numerous cases of arbitrary arrest, particularly of foreign workers, asylum seekers, and refugees. For example, in May, Department of Home Affairs officers detained 25 irregular migrants during raids at China City and Canal Walk in Cape Town. Human rights activists condemned the arrests and complained that some of the individuals were undocumented because the Department of Home Affairs failed to reopen a refugee center in Cape Town, despite a court order.
Legal aid organizations reported police frequently arrested persons for minor crimes for which the law stipulates the use of a legal summons. Arrests for offenses such as common assault, failure to provide proof of identity, or petty theft sometimes resulted in the unlawful imprisonment of ordinary citizens alongside hardened criminals, which created opportunities for physical abuse.
NGOs and media outlets reported security forces arbitrarily arrested migrants and asylum seekers–even those with documentation–often because police were unfamiliar with asylum documentation. In some cases police threatened documented migrants and asylum seekers with indefinite detention and bureaucratic hurdles unless they paid bribes to obtain quick adjudication of their cases. The law prohibits the detention of unaccompanied migrant children for immigration law violations, but NGOs reported that the DHA and SAPS nevertheless detained them.
Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was common. According to the DCS 2017-18 annual report, there were 46,142 pretrial detainees in the prison system–equal to 29 percent of the inmate population. According to the DCS, detainees waited an average of 176 days before trial. Observers attributed the high rate of pretrial detention to arrests based on insufficient evidence, overburdened courts, poor case preparation, irregular access to public defenders, and prohibitive bail amounts. Police often held detainees while prosecutors developed cases and waited for court dates. Legal scholars estimated less than 60 percent of those arrested were convicted. The law requires a review of pretrial detention once it exceeds two years.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested, regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds, are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained. These rights, however, do not apply to undocumented residents in the country.
The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence. The judiciary, however, was understaffed and underfunded. There were numerous reports that legal documents used in trials were lost, particularly when the accused was a government official. NGOs stated judicial corruption was a problem, although there were no proven cases of corruption during the year. According to the presidentially mandated Criminal Justice System Working Group (composed of ministers and deputy ministers), two-thirds of the estimated two million criminal cases reported annually never resulted in verdicts.
Government agencies sometimes ignored orders from provincial high courts and the Constitutional Court.
The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Criminal defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence; to be informed promptly of the charges; a fair, timely, and public trial; to be present at their trial; to communicate with an attorney of their choice; to have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense; free assistance of an interpreter; to confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence; and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Police did not always inform detainees promptly and in detail of the charges against them, nor did they always accurately complete corresponding paperwork. Provision of free assistance of an interpreter depended on the availability and cost of interpreters. Interpretation standards were low and sometimes compromised the veracity of exchange between the defendant and the court. Judges sometimes transferred cases from rural to urban areas to access interpreters more easily. Limited access to qualified interpreters sometimes delayed trials. Judges and magistrates hear criminal cases and determine guilt or innocence.
Detainees and defendants have the right to legal counsel provided and funded by the state when “substantial injustice would otherwise result,” but this right was limited due to a general lack of information regarding rights to legal representation and the government’s inability to adequately budget for such services. There is no automatic right to appeal unless the accused is younger than age 16, but courts may give defendants permission to do so. Additionally, the law requires a judge to review automatically all prison sentences longer than three months.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
The opposition Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) maintained the government had imprisoned 384 of its members since 1994 for political reasons, although international human rights organizations did not list these persons as political prisoners or detainees. In 2010 then president Zuma announced he approved 154 and rejected 230 IFP applications for pardon. Following his announcement, the government considered and rejected an additional six cases. The presidency considered the remaining pardon requests on a case-by-case basis.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts or through the South African Human Rights Commission, but the government did not always comply with court decisions. Individuals and organizations may not appeal domestic court decisions to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, because the government has not recognized the competence of the court.
The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but there were reports that the government failed to respect this prohibition. The “Right 2 Know” (R2K) campaign reported that government surveillance targeted whistleblowers, activists, and journalists who uncovered corruption, including “state capture,” a World Bank term often used to describe systemic political corruption, in which private interests influence the state’s decision-making process.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides for criminal penalties for conviction of official corruption, and the government continued efforts to curb corruption, but officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.
Corruption: During the year the Office of the Public Protector, a constitutionally mandated body designed to investigate government abuse and mismanagement, investigated thousands of cases, some of which involved high-level officials. The public and NGOs considered the Office of the Public Protector independent and effective, despite limited funding. According to the NPA’s 2017-2018 Annual Report, it recovered 410,000 rand ($31,700) from government officials involved in corruption, a 92-percent decrease from the previous year. Courts convicted 213 government officials of corruption.
The Constitutional Court ruled in August that former president Jacob Zuma’s appointment of Shaun Abrahams as head of the NPA was invalid and ordered President Ramaphosa to replace Abrahams within 90 days. The court also ordered former NPA head Mxolisi Nxasana to repay a “golden handshake” (an illegal departure bonus) of 10.2 million rand ($788,000) he received when Zuma replaced him with Abrahams in 2015. Most political parties and civil society organizations celebrated the court’s ruling and acknowledged the challenges facing the NPA. In September 2017 Zuma’s lawyers conceded in an appeals court that the NPA’s dropping of 783 corruption charges against the president in 2009 was irrational. In October 2017 the Supreme Court of Appeal reinstated the charges, opening the door for future prosecution of Zuma.
In August the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture began an investigation of public-sector corruption and fraud. Popularly known as the “Zondo Commission” because it was led by Constitutional Court Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, the commission was formed to investigate concerns raised by the former public protector Thuli Madonsela in her 2016 “state of capture” report. Numerous former senior officials had already testified before the commission; a number of them directly implicated former president Jacob Zuma in corruption cases.
Corruption remained a problem in prisons. At least 10 agencies, including the SAPS Special Investigation Unit, Public Service Commission, Office of the Public Prosecutor, and Office of the Auditor General, were involved in anticorruption activities.
In August, Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane called on SAPS to improve its protection of whistleblowers after Thabiso Zulu and Les Stuta claimed former ANC youth league secretary general Sindiso Magaqa was killed because he wanted to expose corruption in the multimillion-rand renovation of the uMzimkhulu memorial hall on KwaZulu-Natal Province’s south coast. Mkhwebane accused the police minister of gross negligence and of exposing whistleblowers to possible retaliatory killings.
Financial Disclosure: Public officials, including members of national and provincial legislatures, all cabinet members, deputy ministers, provincial premiers, and members of provincial executive councils, are subject to financial disclosure laws and regulations, but some failed to comply, and departments filed the majority of their reports late. The declaration regime clearly identifies which assets, liabilities, and interests public officials must declare. Government officials are required to declare publicly their financial interests when they enter office, and there are administrative and criminal sanctions for noncompliance, but no defined unit is mandated to monitor and verify disclosures of government officials. The government made public declarations by government officials but not those of their spouses or children. Public service regulations prohibit employees of departments from doing business with the state, a prohibition not always respected. Annual disclosure of financial interests may be done electronically through the eDisclosure system to simplify the process of disclosure of financial interests.
The auditor general’s 2016-17 report noted cases of public servants who had private or business interest in contracts awarded by the National Department of Health and the National Department of Education who failed to disclose such interests. Audits revealed that officials of 31 departments and state-owned enterprises failed to declare their interests in awards totaling 54 million rand ($4.2 million) either as part of the procurement processes or through annual declarations. Another 44 officials failed to declare family members’ interests in awards totaling 274 million rand ($21.2 million). These findings were most common in national government (27 instances) and the North West Province (nine instances) entities.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
Domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views.
Government Human Rights Bodies: Although created by the government, the South African Human Rights Commission operated independently and was responsible for promoting the observance of fundamental human rights at all levels of government and throughout the general population. The commission also has the authority to conduct investigations, issue subpoenas, and take sworn testimony. Due to a large backlog of cases, the failure of government agencies to adhere to its recommendations and fund it adequately, the commission was considered only moderately effective.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of men or women, including spousal rape, is illegal and remained a serious and pervasive problem. The minimum sentence for conviction of rape is 10 years in prison for the first offense. 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 attackers were acquaintances or family members of the victim, which contributed to a reluctance to press charges, as did a poor security climate and societal attitudes. In June, Khensani Maseko, a Rhodes University student, committed suicide after being raped by her boyfriend. In response the Department of Higher Education drafted a policy that requires institutions to expand support for victims of sexual violence and that perpetrators be prosecuted. From April 2017 through March, 40,525 cases of rape were reported. According to the 2017-2018 NPA Annual Report, the conviction rate for sexual offense crimes was 73 percent based on a sample of 6,879 cases that were “finalized” or investigated first as rape cases before being passed to the NPA and tried. A Medical Research Council study on the investigation, prosecution, and adjudication of reported rape cases concluded that only 18.5 percent of cases reported went to trial and only 8.6 percent of cases resulted in a verdict of guilty. Prosecutors chose not to prosecute many cases due to insufficient evidence. Poor police training, insufficient forensic lab capacity, a lack of trauma counseling for victim witnesses, and overburdened courts contributed to the low conviction rate.
The Department of Justice operated 58 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 NPA operated 55 rape management centers, or TCCs (Thuthuzela Care Centers). All TCCs were located at hospitals. Of rape cases brought to TCCs, 47 percent went to trial and were terminated–by either conviction or acquittal–within nine months from the date a victim reported the case.
Domestic violence was pervasive and included physical, sexual, emotional, and verbal abuse, as well as harassment and stalking. 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 a prison sentence of up to five years, or up to 20 years if additional criminal charges apply. Penalties for conviction of domestic violence include fines and sentences of between two and five years’ imprisonment.
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. The government conducted rape and domestic violence awareness campaigns, including a first-of-its-kind GBV summit. In August the government hosted numerous events focused on empowering women in business, government, health, sports, and the arts; however, many civil society organizations were critical of the Ministry of Women’s general focus on women’s economic empowerment while neglecting the issue of GBV.
On August 1, women across the country participated in #TotalShutdown, a one-day protest against violence against women. According to SAPS, the number of incidents of violence against women and children drastically increased nationwide during the year. In November, SAPS arrested two suspects in connection with the killing of three women and four children from one family in Vlakfontein (south of Johannesburg).
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. For additional information, see Appendix C.
Sexual Harassment: Although the law prohibits sexual harassment, it remained a widespread problem. With criminal prosecution a rare secondary step that the complainant must request, the government left enforcement primarily to employers. The Department of Labor 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.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of forced abortion or involuntary sterilization. For additional information, see Appendix C.
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 decisions in courts, but access to legal counsel was costly.
According to the Employment Equity Amendment Act, 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 act expressly prohibits unequal pay for work of equal value and discriminatory practices, including unequal pay and separate pension funds for different groups in a company.
The minister of women in the Presidency, the Commission for Gender Equality, the Commission for Employment Equity, and a number of other government bodies monitored and promoted women’s rights, as did numerous NGOs and labor unions.
Birth Registration: The law provides for citizenship by birth (if at least one parent is a permanent resident or citizen), descent, and naturalization. Nevertheless, registration of births was inconsistent, especially in remote rural areas or among parents who were unregistered foreign nationals. Children without birth registration had no access to free government services such as education or health care, and their parents had no access to financial grants for their children. For additional information, see Appendix C.
Education: Public education is compulsory and universal until age 15 or grade nine. Public education is fee-based and not fully subsidized by the government. Nevertheless, the law provides that schools may not refuse admission to children due to a lack of funds; disadvantaged children, who were mainly black, were eligible for assistance. Even when children qualified for fee exemptions, low-income parents had difficulty paying for uniforms and supplies. In violation of law, noncitizen children were sometimes denied access to education.
Child Abuse: Child abuse is illegal. The penalties for conviction of child abuse include fines and up to 20 years’ imprisonment. Violence against children, including domestic violence and sexual abuse, remained widespread.
Some teachers and other school staff harassed, abused, raped, and assaulted students in schools, according to reports. The law requires schools to disclose sexual abuse to authorities, but administrators sometimes concealed sexual violence or delayed disciplinary action.
In April a Hermanus (Western Cape) schoolteacher was tried for the rape and kidnapping at gunpoint of a female pupil. The trial continued at year’s end.
Early and Forced Marriage: By law parental or judicial consent to marry is required for individuals younger than 18. Nevertheless, ukuthwala, the practice of abducting girls as young as age 12 and forcing them into marriage, occurred in remote villages in Western Cape, Eastern Cape, and KwaZulu-Natal Provinces. The law prohibits nonconsensual ukuthwala and classifies it as a trafficking offense. According to the 2016 State of the World’s Children Report of the UN Children’s Fund, 6 percent of girls in the country were married before age 18. For additional information, see Appendix C.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: Penalties for conviction of sexual exploitation of a child include fines and imprisonment of up to 20 years. By law the age of consent is 16. The statutory sentence for conviction of rape of a child is life in prison, although the law grants judicial discretion to issue sentences that are more lenient.
The law prohibits child pornography and provides for penalties including fines and imprisonment of up to 10 years. The Film and Publications Board maintained a website and a toll-free hotline for the public to report incidents of child pornography.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.
The South African Jewish Board of Deputies estimated the Jewish community at 75,000 to 80,000 persons. There were reports of verbal abuse, hate speech, harassment, and attacks on Jewish persons or property. Government and political representatives made anti-Semitic statements.
Twin brothers Brandon Lee Thulsie and Tony Lee Thulsie, arrested in 2016 for allegedly planning to set off explosives at Jewish establishments, continued to await trial at year’s end. They were charged with contravening the Protection of Constitutional Democracy Against Terror and Related Activities law and with having ties to a foreign terrorist organization.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination based on physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disability in employment or access to health care, the judicial system, and education. Persons identified by the courts as having a mental disability, however, are prohibited by law from voting. Department of Transportation policies on providing services to persons with disabilities were consistent with the constitution’s prohibition on discrimination. The Department of Labor ran vocational centers at which persons with disabilities learned skills to earn a living. Nevertheless, government and private-sector discrimination existed. The law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities, but such regulations were rarely enforced, and public awareness of them remained minimal.
According to the 2017-2018 Annual Report of the Department of Basic Education, there were numerous barriers to education for students with disabilities, primarily a policy of channeling students into specialized schools at the expense of inclusive education. Separate schools frequently charged additional fees (making them financially inaccessible), were located long distances from students’ homes, and lacked the capacity to accommodate demand. Children often were housed in dormitories with few adults, many of whom had little or no training in caring for children with disabilities. When parents attempted to force mainstream schools to accept their children with disabilities–an option provided for by law–schools sometimes rejected the students outright because of their disabilities or claimed there was no room. Many blind and deaf children in mainstream schools received only basic care rather than education.
The law prohibits harassment of persons with disabilities and, in conjunction with the Employment Equity Act, provides guidelines on the recruitment and selection of persons with disabilities, reasonable accommodation for persons with disabilities, and guidelines on proper handling of employees’ medical information. Enforcement of this law was limited.
Persons with disabilities were sometimes subject to abuse and attacks, and prisoners with mental disabilities often received no psychiatric care. According to the 2016 Optimus Study, children with disabilities were 78 percent more likely than children without disabilities to have experienced sexual abuse in the home. According to media reports, in June a mute 11-year-old boy was raped at the Golden Hours Special Needs School in Durban North.
Incidents of racism continued. In March, Vicki Momberg was convicted of crimen injuria (see section 2.a.) for repeatedly addressing black police officers with a racial slur and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment without parole. She was recorded on video using the “K-word” 48 times at the officers who were trying to assist her after she was a victim of a theft in Johannesburg. Momberg’s conviction was the first under the 2000 Promotion of Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act.
Some advocacy groups asserted that white farmers were targeted for burglaries, home invasions, and killing because of their race. Some analysts attributed the incidents to the country’s high and growing crime rate. According to the Institute for Security Studies, “farm attacks and farm murders have increased in recent years in line with the general upward trend in South Africa’s serious and violent crimes.” A report by the NGO AgriSA stated that killings on farms during the year were at their lowest level in the past 19 years. According to SAPS 2017/2018 crime statistics, farm killings represented only 0.3 percent of all killings in the country (62 of 20,336).
Xenophobic attacks on foreign African migrants and ethnic minorities occurred and sometimes resulted in death, injury, and displacement. Incidents of xenophobic violence generally were concentrated in areas characterized by poverty and lack of services. Citizens blamed immigrants for increased crime and the loss of jobs and housing. According to researchers from the African Center for Migration and Society, perpetrators of crimes against foreign nationals enjoyed relative impunity. In August, Soweto and other Johannesburg-area townships saw a spate of looting and violence targeted against small foreign-owned convenience shops. SAPS confirmed that four residents died and at least 27 were arrested on charges of murder, possession of firearms, and public disorder in connection with the violence. At year’s end their trial date had yet to be set.
Local community or political leaders who sought to gain notoriety in their communities allegedly instigated some attacks. The government sometimes responded quickly and decisively to xenophobic incidents, sending police and soldiers into affected communities to quell violence and restore order, but responses were often slow and inadequate. Since 2013 the government significantly reduced the number of assaults and deaths by evacuating foreign nationals from communities affected by xenophobic violence, although little was done to protect their property. Civil society organizations criticized the government for failing to address the causes of violence, for not facilitating opportunities for conflict resolution in affected communities, for failing to protect the property or livelihoods of foreign nationals, and for failing to deter such attacks by vigorous investigation and prosecution of perpetrators.
The NGO Working Group of Indigenous Minorities in Southern Africa estimated there were 7,500 indigenous San and Khoi in the country, some of whom worked as farmers or farm laborers. By law the San and Khoi have the same political and economic rights as other citizens, although the government did not always effectively protect those rights or deliver basic services to indigenous communities. Indigenous groups complained of exclusion from land restitution, housing, and affirmative action programs. They also demanded formal recognition as “first peoples” in the constitution. Their lack of recognition as “first peoples” excluded them from inclusion in government-recognized structures for traditional leaders. Their participation in government and the economy was limited due to fewer opportunities, lack of land or other resources, minimal access to education, and relative isolation.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The constitution prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. The law prohibits discrimination against LGBTI persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services such as health care.
Despite government policies prohibiting discrimination, there were reports of official mistreatment or discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Security force members, for example, reportedly raped LGBTI individuals during arrest. A 2018 University of Cape Town report underscored violence and discrimination, particularly against lesbians and transgender individuals. The report documented cases of “secondary victimization” of lesbians, including cases in which police harassed, ridiculed, and assaulted victims of sexual violence and GBV who reported abuse. LGBTI individuals were particularly vulnerable to violent crime due to anti-LGBTI attitudes within the community and among police. Anti-LGBTI attitudes among junior members of SAPS affected how they handled complaints by LGBTI individuals.
The multisector network of civil society organizations Hate Crimes Working Group analyzed 945 cases of hate crimes from across five provinces and found that 17 percent of victims were targeted due to their sexual orientation. According to the NGO, approximately 66 percent of hate crimes were not reported to police. Of those reported there were numerous abuses similar to the following example. In February media reported that during the annual gathering in Tongaat of pastors of the Shembe Nazareth Church, 50 male parishioners were beaten for being gay.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
HIV and HIV-related social stigma and discrimination in employment, housing, and access to education and health care remained a problem, especially in rural communities. In 2015 the South African National AIDS Council–a joint body composed of government, academic, and civil society representatives–released a landmark People Living with HIV Stigma Index. The council surveyed a representative sampling of more than 10,000 HIV-positive individuals regarding their experiences with social stigma. The survey revealed a large majority of respondents had never been excluded from social gatherings. Nevertheless, those who reported exclusion cited their HIV status as the main reason. For additional information, see Appendix C.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
There were reports that persons accused of witchcraft were attacked, driven from their villages, and in some cases killed, particularly in Limpopo, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal, and Eastern Cape Provinces. Victims were often elderly women. Traditional leaders generally cooperated with authorities and reported threats against persons suspected of witchcraft.
Persons with albinism faced discrimination and were sometimes attacked in connection with ritual practices.
Ritual (muthi) killings to obtain body parts believed by some to enhance traditional medicine persisted. Police estimated organ harvesting for traditional medicine resulted in 50 deaths per year.
Incidents of vigilante violence and mob killings occurred. For example, in August, two men were killed in separate incidents of mob justice in Brits (North West Province). In one case the victim of an armed robbery caught the perpetrator and took him to the night vigil of the victim’s congregation, where he was assaulted and later died of his injuries. In the second case, police arrested a man for assault. Hundreds of community members surrounded the police vehicle in which the suspect was being held, poured hot wax on the vehicle, pelted police with stones, and removed the suspect, whom they set on fire and killed.