An official website of the United States Government Here's how you know

Official websites use .gov

A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS

A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

South Africa

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is illegal but remained a serious and pervasive problem. The minimum sentence for 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 results in a minimum sentence of life imprisonment (25 years), 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.

According to police statistics, approximately 150 women and girls per day reported rape to police. Doctors Without Borders reported that in Rustenburg, in the platinum mining belt, one in four women (55,000) were raped at least once in their lifetime. The study also found that 95 percent of raped women did not report or seek medical attention, raising their risk of HIV/AIDS infection.

In a 2011 study conducted in Gauteng Province by the Medical Research Council of South Africa and Gender Links, 37 percent of men admitted to having committed one or more rapes, and 25 percent of women admitted being a victim of sexual violence in their lifetime.

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. According to the 2015-16 NPA annual report, the conviction rate for sexual offense crimes was 70 percent. 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 NPA did not track the length of time required for cases to reach trial, but, according to media reports, it could take between six months and three years for a rape case to reach trial, depending on the complexity of the case and the plea of the accused.

The Department of Justice operated 50 dedicated sexual-offense courts throughout the country. Sexual-offense courts included facilities such as private waiting rooms, court preparation rooms, and closed-circuit television rooms for victims, all in an attempt to provide additional privacy and prevent secondary victimization. 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 53 rape centers, or TCCs (see section 1.e.). All TCCs were located at hospitals, either within the hospital or in a mobile unit on hospital grounds. 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 facilitates protection orders against abusive individuals, requires police to take victims to a place of safety, and allows police to seize firearms at the scene and to arrest abusers without a warrant. 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 domestic violence include fines and sentences of between two and five years’ imprisonment.

On August 1, the Western Cape High Court sentenced Bennie Adams to 25 years in jail for housebreaking with intent to kidnap, kidnapping, rape, common assault, and murder. In 2014 Adams beat to death the toddler son of Uretta Nicholas, who had sought protection from the Kuils River Police Station after Adams had assaulted and beaten her and her son. The police turned her away, and by the time she managed to obtain a protection order, her son had been beaten to death.

In July, Oscar Pistorius was returned to jail to serve a six-year sentence for killing his girlfriend in 2013; he was expected to be paroled in as few as three years. The light sentencing drew criticism as prosecutors had demanded the mandatory minimum murder sentence of 15 years. The NPA filed an application to appeal the sentence, which was subsequently denied. In September the NPA announced its intention to petition the Supreme Court of Appeal to overturn the decision.

NGOs estimated 25 percent of women were in abusive relationships, but few reported it. The Southern African Development Community Gender Protocol 2016 Barometer (a survey compiled by Gender Links) found 43 percent of men and 35 percent of women believed that a husband had the right to punish his wife and that 37 percent of men and 32 percent of women believed a man beating a woman showed his love for her. The report attributed the high levels of gender-based violence in the country to such attitudes.

The government financed shelters and rape-support centers for abused women, but more were needed, particularly in rural areas. The government conducted rape and domestic violence awareness campaigns. In honor of Women’s Month, the government hosted numerous events focused on empowering women in business, government, health, sports, and the arts. The discussions generated controversy, however, because the government focused on men’s role in protecting women, while civil society advocated a more inclusive focus on gender-based violence. Many civil society organizations were also dissatisfied with the Ministry of Women’s general focus on women’s economic empowerment while neglecting the issue of gender-based violence.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C, but girls in isolated zones in ethnic Venda communities in the Northeast 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 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 the victim’s lost compensation plus interest, additional damages, legal fees, and dismissal of the perpetrator in some circumstances. Tougher punishments are imposed for assault that carry a range of penalties depending on the severity of the act but require the complainant to press charges.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide freely the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and to have the information and means to do so free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Contraception was widely available and free at government clinics. Emergency health care was available for the treatment of complications arising from abortion.

According to the Department of Health, the antenatal care coverage rate was 98.5 percent. According to the country’s 2010 Millennium Development Goal Report posted by the UN Development Program, the maternal mortality ratio was 269 per 100,000 live births. The government and numerous international organizations continued efforts to reduce the maternal mortality rate through a variety of pilot projects. During the year the government collaborated with a foreign government to form “MomConnect,” an SMS (short message service)-based messaging service to provide health information to pregnant women; the service enrolled approximately 500,000 mothers by year’s end. Primary challenges were low awareness among mothers of available antenatal care, the high HIV/AIDS rate, poor administrative and financial management, poor quality of care, and lack of accountability in the health-care system.

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 (see section 7.d.), 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 may challenge traditional land tenure decisions in national courts, but access to legal counsel was costly.

The Employment Equity Amendment Act aims to promote equality in the workplace. According to the 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 (see section 7.d.). In June 2015 the government adopted a Code of Good Practice to provide employers and employees with practical guidance on the equal pay principle of the act.

Women, particularly black women, typically had lower incomes and less job security than did men. Many women were engaged in poorly paid domestic labor and microenterprises that did not provide job security or benefits. The Department of Trade and Industry provided incentive grants to promote the development of small and medium-size businesses and microenterprises for women, young persons, and persons with disabilities. The department also operated the Isivande Women’s Fund to improve women’s access to formal finance.

According to the 2015-16 Employment Equity Report produced by the labor department’s Commission for Employment Equity, women held 21 percent of top management, 32 percent of senior management positions, and 46 percent of professional positions.

Female farm workers often experienced discrimination, and their access to housing frequently depended on their relationship to male farm workers. Female farm workers on maternity leave who could not obtain timely compensation through the Unemployment Insurance Fund often returned to work shortly after giving birth, according to NGOs working with farm workers.

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.

Children

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. Some human rights NGOs claimed government inefficiency inhibited birth registration. Authorities blamed late birth registration for irregularities in the population register. In the 2014-15 reporting period, parents registered only 62 percent of births in the prescribed 30-day window, according to the DHA. 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.

Education: Public education is compulsory until age 15 or grade nine. Public education was fee based and not fully subsidized by the government. The law provides that schools may not refuse admission to children due to a lack of funds, and disadvantaged children, who were mainly black, were eligible for assistance. Nevertheless, even when children qualified for fee exemptions, low-income parents had difficulty paying for uniforms and supplies. According to the 2012 national census, girls faced more difficulties accessing services than boys; children with disabilities were at an even greater disadvantage.

Child Abuse: Violence against children, including domestic violence and sexual abuse, remained widespread. According to the 2016 Optimus Study, 10 percent of children ages 15 to 17 had experienced sexual abuse. According to the 2015-16 SAPS report, 40,689 children were victims of crime, and 1,344 persons were arrested for child abuse.

Some teachers and other school staff harassed, abused, 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. The level of sexual violence in schools also increased the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS or other sexually transmitted diseases, as well as unwanted pregnancies.

In August authorities suspended a male teacher at a high school in Nquthu for allegedly sexually abusing six female students ages 14 and 15. The teacher reportedly filmed the abuse that occurred on school property on his mobile phone. Although the law prohibits corporal punishment in schools, there were reports that teachers used physical violence to discipline students. There were also multiple reports of students physically assaulting teachers.

Student-on-student violence, including racially motivated violence, was a problem.

Early and Forced Marriage: Parental or judicial consent to marry is required for individuals younger than 18. Nevertheless, the traditional practice of “ukuthwala,” the arranged marriage of girls as young as age 12 to men, occurred in remote villages in Western Cape, Eastern Cape, and KwaZulu-Natal Provinces. In 2015 the president promulgated the Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Bill that prohibits nonconsensual ukuthwala and classifies it as a trafficking offense. According to the 2016 State of the World’s Children Reportof the UN Children’s Fund, 6 percent of girls in the country were married before age 18.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: See information for girls under age 18 in women’s section above.

Ritual circumcision of young males, often by medically unqualified practitioners, was still a prevalent initiation tradition in several provinces, particularly in Eastern Cape Province. Circumcisions took place at initiation schools, remote camps where traditional leaders led a multiweek rite-of-passage ceremony. Circumcision, which sometimes resulted in death, was considered a precondition for adult status and permits marriage, inheritance, and other societal privileges.

The government regulates initiation schools, but unlicensed schools operated throughout the country for financial gain. In the worst cases, initiation schools enticed or kidnapped boys and girls to undertake rites of passage and held them for ransom until their parents paid for their release. The Council of Traditional Leaders conducted a dialogue with medical providers to identify options for the integration of medical circumcision into traditional practices. In some communities the dialogue led to the successful use of medical providers to perform circumcisions, but in other communities the dialogue failed to resolve differences. Regardless of agreement on medical provider participation, illegal and unlicensed initiation schools remained a major problem.

As an outcome of the dialogues, the government also supported a program to conduct medical circumcisions and deployed field hospitals to the remote areas where most circumcision rituals occurred. Discussing circumcision was taboo in many communities, where it was considered a matter for chiefs to decide. Some traditional leaders criticized government interference in initiation and circumcision practices, while others declared moratoriums on circumcision. Many traditional leaders vocally criticized initiation schools and encouraged the government to punish offenders strictly. The government conducted outreach, education, and training programs to engage youth and traditional leaders on circumcision best practices.

During the year 23 initiates died as a result of botched circumcisions, mostly due to infections and dehydration as boys were frequently told not to drink water over the initiation period, which could last a month. Botched circumcisions leading to hospitalizations and penile amputations also were reported. In June, following the botched circumcisions of 17 boys in Zeerust, political parties sought greater oversight by the North West Traditional Affairs Department of illegal initiation schools.

On June 2, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister David Van Rooyen announced the cabinet had approved a policy to govern the administration and operation of traditional and cultural circumcision. The policy would allow the government to close illegal initiation schools and arrest the proprietors.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Penalties for the sexual exploitation of a child include fines and imprisonment of up to 20 years. The law defines statutory rape as sexual intercourse between anyone under age 18 and an adult more than two years older. The statutory sentence for rape of a child is life in prison, although the law grants judicial discretion to issue sentences that are more lenient.

In 2015 the president signed into law changes to decriminalize consensual sexual conduct between children ages 12 to 16. This fulfilled a 2013 Constitutional Court order that gave the government 18 months to remove the portion of the Sexual Offenses and Related Matters Act that criminalized such conduct.

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.

The SAPS Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offense team continued to work with Belgian authorities on Operation Cloud 9, an investigation into online sexual exploitation of children. In March the operation’s work led to the arrest of a 27-year-old child pornography suspect in Johannesburg.

A study conducted by the government entity Statistics South Africa from 2009 to 2015 found approximately 90,000 children lived in approximately 50,000 child-headed households, mostly due to the impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. These children sometimes turned to prostitution to support themselves and their siblings. Traffickers in the sex trade exploited other children. Traffickers often recruited children from poor rural areas and moved them to urban centers such as Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, and Bloemfontein. NGOs provided shelter, medical, and legal assistance for children in prostitution and a hotline for victims of child abuse.

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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

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.

On July 11, four individuals were arrested and charged with “conspiracy and incitement to commit the crime of terrorism” after reportedly plotting to attack a foreign embassy in Pretoria and unidentified Jewish buildings. Charges against two of the four were subsequently withdrawn. Brandon Lee Thulsie and Tony Lee Thulsie, 24-year-old twin brothers, were charged with three counts of contravening the Protection of Constitutional Democracy Against Terrorist and Related Activities Act. According to the charge sheet, the brothers allegedly were linked to Da’esh and planned to set off explosives at a foreign embassy and Jewish institutions in the country. The case continued at year’s end.

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 in employment or access to health care, the judicial system, and education based on physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disability. Department of Transportation policies on providing services to persons with disabilities were consistent with the constitution’s prohibition on discrimination. 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.

In September the Gauteng provincial government announced the deaths of 36 persons with mental disabilities. The individuals were among those whose care was transferred to 122 NGOs after the Department of Health cancelled its contract with Life Healthcare, which cared for approximately 2,000 persons with mental disabilities. The individuals were transferred without clinical files that detailed their medical history. Opposition parties called for an investigation into the deaths.

Educational opportunities for children with disabilities were limited. According to Section 27, a public-interest law center, a mother in Manguzi reported that her son had never attended school because he was deaf and did not know sign language. When the child was eight years old, he was put onto a waiting list for a special school but not offered admission until four years later. His offer was subsequently rescinded because he was too old. Section 27 stated teachers were often hired without skills to teach students with different disabilities and were challenged by large student-to-teacher ratios.

In 2012, the most recent year for which data were available, there were more than 111,000 students with disabilities in mainstream schools, and the country had 444 specialized schools for students with disabilities. A report published during the year by the SAHRC and Human Rights Watch estimated, however, that more than 500,000 children with disabilities were not in school. The report found numerous barriers to education for students with disabilities, primarily a policy of channeling students into specialized schools at the expense of inclusive education. Specialized 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 under the law, schools sometimes rejected the students outright because of their disabilities or claimed there was no room.

The Department of Basic Education allocated part of its budget for assistive devices, material resources, and assistive technology, but it noted resources were inadequate, and teachers reported insufficient skills in inclusive education. 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. The law also requires employers with more than 50 workers to create an affirmative action plan with provisions to achieve employment equity for persons with disabilities (see section 7.d.). Nevertheless, persons with disabilities constituted only an estimated 1.2 percent of the workforce. The government did not meet its goal of filling 2 percent of government positions with persons with disabilities by year’s end.

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 to have experienced sexual abuse in the home than children without disabilities.

In 2015 four men–including a traditional healer–abducted and killed Thandazile Mpunza, a 20-year-old woman with albinism and a learning disability. They dismembered Mpunza, allegedly used her body parts in a traditional ceremony, and buried her remains in a shallow grave. Police arrested the men and charged them with murder. In 2015 the two primary suspects were convicted and each sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment. During the year one suspect was sentenced to 18 years’ imprisonment, and one was convicted and awaiting sentencing at year’s end.

There were 15 persons with disabilities in the upper and lower houses of parliament and 218 elected officials with disabilities at the provincial and municipal levels, according to the umbrella advocacy group Disabled People South Africa. The law does not allow persons identified by the courts as mentally disabled to vote.

The Department of Social Development has primary responsibility for disability policy. All provincial and local governments also have offices charged with protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, and there are representatives advocating for persons with disabilities at the Commission for Gender Equality and the SAHRC. NGOs also advocated for the rights of persons with disabilities.

A 2014 study by the South African Federation for Mental Health found that of the 20 percent of citizens with mental disabilities, 75 percent did not receive needed care. There were approximately 80 mental health treatment facilities in the country, and more than half were run by NGOs, well short of the facilities needed.

According to November media reports, some government employees with disabilities who worked in a Mpumalanga provincial government complex were unable to get to their offices due to broken elevators. An investigation revealed that only two of six government buildings had working elevators, and that the elevator in one of the buildings had been broken since August.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The law requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide for previously disadvantaged groups, legally defined as “Africans or blacks,” “Coloureds,” and “Asians” and collectively constituting more than 90 percent of the population, to be represented adequately at all levels of the workforce. Nevertheless, blacks remained underrepresented, particularly at the professional and managerial levels (see section 7.d.). According to the 2015-16 Employment Equity Report, whites occupied 68.9 percent of top management positions, 58.1 percent of senior management positions, and 38 percent of professionally qualified positions while comprising only 9.9 percent of the economically active population. Blacks held 14.3 percent of top management positions (up from 13.6 percent in 2014-15), 21.2 percent of senior management positions (up from 20.5 percent in 2014-15), and 41.2 percent of all professional positions (up from 36.7 percent in 2014-15). Black women remained by far the most disadvantaged group in number and quality of management jobs.

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 foreigners enjoyed relative impunity.

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 more often, the response was slow and insufficient. Since 2013, the government reduced significantly the number of assaults and deaths by evacuating individuals from communities affected by xenophobic violence, although little was done to protect property owned by foreign nationals. 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 foreigners, and for failing to deter such attacks by vigorous investigation and prosecution of perpetrators.

On January 3, KwaZulu-Natal real estate agent Penny Sparrow posted racist statements on social media labeling black beachgoers as “monkeys.” After being reported to the SAHRC, the Equality Court ruled that the words constituted hate speech and fined her 150,000 rand ($10,700). Sparrow successfully appealed the sentence at the Magistrate’s Court, where it was reduced to 5,000 rand ($357). Additionally, she received a suspended sentence of two years in prison conditioned on issuing a public/social media apology and not committing a similar offense for five years. Sparrow was instructed to pay the fine to the Oliver and Adelaide Tambo Foundation; however, the foundation refused to accept it.

On August 27, in Middelburg, Victor Mlotshwa was held at gunpoint, beaten, and placed in a coffin by Theo Jackson and Willem Oosthuizen. The perpetrators filmed the incident for social media. On November 16, the case was brought in front of the Middleburg magistrate court, where the defendants abandoned their bail bid. The case was postponed to January 25, and Jackson and Oosthuizen remained in custody.

On September 30, the SAHRC released its findings on 31 complaints filed against the Zulu king in 2015 for xenophobic comments, including that foreigners “dirtied the streets” and should “pack their bags and go home.” The SAHRC found that the comments attacked a vulnerable minority but did not amount to hate speech.

Killings of farm owners and farm laborers continued. For example, in January authorities arrested four farmers for allegedly beating to death two farm workers they claimed had attacked a 72-year-old farmer over a wage dispute. According to police, the four detainees were avenging the beating of a fellow farmer. The case continued at year’s end.

In July unknown assailants repeatedly stabbed a farmer and assaulted his wife during a robbery on his farm in the south of Johannesburg. The police had made no arrests by year’s end.

Indigenous People

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 their leadership from 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 (see section 7.d.).

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The post-apartheid constitution outlaws discrimination based on sexual orientation. According to the Other Foundation, a local NGO, more than 50 percent of citizens believed that LGBTI individuals should have the same human rights as other citizens, although more than 70 percent of respondents believed same-sex sexual activity was morally wrong. This cultural attitude influenced service delivery by individual government employees at the local level. NGOs reported the prevailing culture also negatively influenced hiring practices by local firms, particularly for transgender and intersex individuals.

There were reports of official mistreatment or discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity despite clear government policies prohibiting discrimination. Security force members, for example, reportedly raped LGBTI persons during arrest. A 2015 Human Rights Watch report highlighted violence and discrimination, particularly against lesbians and transgender persons in the country. The report documented cases of “secondary victimization” of lesbians, including cases in which police harassed, ridiculed, and assaulted victims of sexual- and gender-based violence who reported abuse. According to the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry Report released in 2014, 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 SAPS handled complaints by LGBTI individuals, and management did not always address the problem.

In 2014 the government launched a National Intervention Strategy that included rapid-response teams from civil society and various government departments to ensure that law enforcement officers dealt with crimes against the LGBTI community promptly and professionally. In August 2015 the government reported these rapid-response teams, which continued to meet during the year, analyzed more than 200 hate crimes cases labeled as “stalled” by civil society. The NPA closed approximately 80 of the cases due to lack of evidence or unavailability of witnesses, but it advanced and concluded 23 cases with convictions, some resulting in life sentences. The NPA and SAPS continued to investigate the remaining cases. The task team has also made progress in educating local government officials and the public about equal rights for the LGBTI community.

On August 17, a gang member raped a lesbian in Bentersdorp. The gang member allegedly told the victim that other lesbians were next, as he knew where they stayed and their working hours. The perpetrator was arrested the following day and was awaiting trial at year’s end.

According to the Western Cape Ministry of Community Safety, on December 3, more than 10 men broke into the home of 22-year-old LGBTI activist Noluvo Swelindawo‚ who they subsequently abducted, assaulted, shot, and killed. Authorities arrested one suspect, who was awaiting trial at year’s end.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The social stigma associated with HIV/AIDS remained a problem, especially in rural communities. Civil society organizations such as the Treatment Action Campaign and government campaigns continued to address the problem.

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 more than 10,000 HIV-positive individuals, age 15 and over, from two districts in each province on their experiences with social stigma. Overall, 36 percent of respondents reported experiencing external stigma; most were girls and women, ages 15 to 24, poor, infected with HIV for two to five years, living in a small town, and married or with a partner but temporarily not living in the same house. A large majority of respondents said they had never been excluded from social gatherings, but those who were excluded listed their HIV status as a key factor. Most participants said they had not been physically assaulted or harassed, discriminated against, or abused physically or emotionally by a partner in the prior 12 months. Of those who experienced abuse, approximately one-third attributed it to their HIV-positive status.

Forty-three percent of respondents of all socioeconomic groups reported internal stigma, or negative feelings toward themselves. Internal stigma had a profound impact on social participation, with 32 percent of respondents deciding not to have children because of their status, 15 percent deciding not to marry, 12 percent choosing not to attend social gatherings, and 10 percent isolating themselves from family and friends. Those most likely to experience internal stigma were between ages 15 to 24, in their first year of HIV-positive status, and lacking formal education.

Of those surveyed who disclosed their status to family or friends, most found family or friends to be supportive. Most respondents disclosed their status–89 percent to their partners and 68 percent to their children. Approximately 28 percent suggested their status might have been disclosed without their consent, 24 percent were unsure whether their status might have been disclosed, and 30 percent were unsure if their medical records were kept confidential.

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 for ritual practices. In June a four-year-old boy with albinism was kidnapped in KwaZulu-Natal and remained missing at year’s end. In July a woman was charged with conspiracy to murder and child trafficking after she allegedly tried to sell a 12-year-old boy with albinism to a traditional healer for 100,000 rand ($7,140). Police were investigating reports that a trafficking syndicate was operating in the area.

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, particularly in Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Eastern Cape, and KwaZulu-Natal Provinces.

On August 13, in Pietermaritzburg, residents assaulted a man accused of stabbing a young child.

Human Rights Reports
Edit Your Custom Report

01 / Select A Year

02 / Select Sections

03 / Select Countries You can add more than one country or area.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future