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 several 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). Watchdog groups noted deaths in custody often resulted from physical abuse combined with a lack of subsequent medical treatment or neglect (see section 1.c.).
NGOs criticized the use of excessive force by the South African Police Service (SAPS) and the South African National Defense Force (SANDF) to enforce lockdown measures that began in March. On April 10, police and defense force members beat to death Collins Khosa after allegedly finding alcohol on his property. On May 31, the North Gauteng High Court ordered the suspension of officers involved and ordered the Ministry of Police to issue lockdown use-of-force guidelines to respect human rights in accordance with South African law and international treaty obligations. On August 26, SAPS officers shot and killed unarmed 16-year-old Nathaniel Julies, who had Downs’ syndrome. Police allegedly took this action because he did not respond to questioning. Following rioting and clashes with police, three officers were arrested and charged with murder. One officer was released on bail, and the other two remained incarcerated at year’s end.
Courts convicted few perpetrators of political violence. Media and NGOs claimed the vast majority of killings resulted from local-level intraparty African National Congress (ANC) disputes, often in the context of competition for resources or as revenge against whistleblowers who uncovered corruption.
In 2018 the Moerane Commission, which then KwaZulu-Natal Province premier Willies Mchunu established to investigate political killings, published a report that identified ANC infighting, readily available hitmen, weak leadership, and ineffective and complicit law enforcement agencies as key contributing factors to the high rate of political killings. There were numerous reported political killings at a local level similar to the following example. In June an ANC councilor for the Umlazi Township, Bhekithemba Phungula, and two other party leaders in KwaZulu-Natal townships were killed.
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 constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were reports of police use of torture and physical abuse during house searches, arrests, interrogations, and detentions, some of which resulted in death. The NGO Sonke Gender Justice reported that almost one-third of sex workers interviewed stated police officers had raped or sexually assaulted them.
Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces. The factors contributing to widespread police brutality were a lack of accountability and training.
As of October 30, the United Nations reported three allegations against South African peacekeepers, a reduction from six allegations in 2019. According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, since 2015 there have been 37 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against 43 peacekeepers from South African units deployed to the UN Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Of the 37 allegations, the South African government had not reported taking accountability measures in 12 of the cases, including the three cases reported during the year, three from 2019, three from 2018, and three from 2017. One of these cases involved rape of a child, four involved transactional sex with one or more adults, six involved an exploitative relationship with an adult, and one involved sexual assault of an adult. In six of the open cases, the South African government, the United Nations, or both substantiated the allegations and the United Nations had repatriated the peacekeepers. According to the United Nations, South African authorities continued to investigate the other six open cases.
Since 2018 remedial legislation to address peacekeeper abuses has been pending.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions were harsh due to overcrowding, poor sanitation, inadequate medical care, disease (particularly tuberculosis), inmate-on-inmate rape, and physical abuse, including torture.
Physical Conditions: According to civil society groups, gross overcrowding of prisons was a problem. In September 2019 the Department of Correction Services (DCS) deputy commissioner reported to a parliamentary committee the country had approximately 43,000 more inmates than beds in correctional facilities. In December 2019 the release of 15,911 low-risk inmates under a special presidential remission order reduced overcrowding by 28 percent. According to the Department of Correctional Services Annual Report 2019/2020, the total inmate population declined by 6 percent from 162,875 inmates in 2019 to 154,449 inmates in May, and the number of children held in correctional facilities declined by more than 80 percent to 0.1 percent of the total inmate population.
During enforcement of COVID-19 lockdown regulations, a rise in arrests increased crowding in prisons and pretrial detention centers. Prisoners at the Johannesburg Correctional Center complained to media and civil society organizations of inadequate social distancing, a lack of masks and other protective measures, and inadequate testing for COVID-19. Cells built to hold 36 inmates with one toilet held 70 inmates. On May 8, the president ordered the release of 19,000 inmates to reduce prison overcrowding during the pandemic.
Prisons generally held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners, although in some large urban areas dedicated pretrial facilities were available.
Media and NGOs continued to report instances in which prisoners were seriously abused. According to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate Report 2019/2020, deaths in police custody (237 cases) increased by 11 percent from 2018/2019. There were 120 reported inmate rapes by police officers, 216 reports of torture, and reports of assault.
There were reports of shortages of prison doctors, inadequate investigation and documentation of prisoner deaths, inadequate monitoring of the prison population, and high prisoner suicide rates. The DCS required doctors to complete and sign reports of inmate deaths to lessen the incidence of deaths caused by neglect being reported as due to natural causes.
In February 2019 the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services launched an investigation into a violent incident at St. Albans Prison Correctional Center (Eastern Cape Province) that left an inmate dead and a prison guard injured. The investigation continued at year’s end.
Food, sanitation, and health care in prisons and detention centers were inadequate. Prisons provided inmates with potable water, but supplies and food were occasionally inadequate, and sanitation was poor. Most cells had toilets and basins but often lacked chairs, adequate light, and ventilation.
NGOs reported some mentally ill inmates who had committed no crime or other infraction were incarcerated rather than being cared for in a mental-health facility. Such prisoners also were often denied medical services. According to the Commission for Gender Equality, some mentally ill female prisoners were straitjacketed and kept in solitary confinement.
Administration: Authorities did not always conduct proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment.
Independent Monitoring: The government usually permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers of prison conditions, including visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed these requirements; however, there were numerous cases of arbitrary arrest of foreign workers, asylum seekers, and refugees.
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.
Arbitrary Arrest: During the year there were numerous cases of arbitrary arrest, particularly of foreign workers, asylum seekers, and refugees. NGOs and media outlets reported security forces arbitrarily arrested migrants and asylum seekers–including those with proper documentation–often because police were unfamiliar with migrant and asylum documentation. In some cases police threatened documented migrants and asylum seekers with indefinite detention and bureaucratic hurdles unless they paid bribes. The law prohibits the detention of unaccompanied migrant children for immigration law violations, but NGOs reported the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) and SAPS nevertheless detained them.
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. Human rights activists condemned the arrests and complained some of the individuals were undocumented because the DHA failed to reopen a refugee center in Cape Town, despite a court order. In October 2019 hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers encamped outside the offices of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Cape Town and Pretoria, claiming they were not safe in South Africa, demanding resettlement to third countries. In October 2019 SAPS removed protesters from UNHCR’s Cape Town office and in November 2019 from the UNHCR Pretoria office. Approximately 180 male protesters were arrested, charged, and convicted of trespassing on the UNHCR compound, most of whom received suspended sentences and were released. As of November approximately 60 protesters remained in prison, having rejected the option of release.
Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was common. According to the Department of Correctional Services 2019-2020 Annual Report the pretrial population averaged 47,233 detainees, 33 percent of the total 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 for prosecution, 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 in cases of pretrial detention of more than two years’ duration. The pretrial detention frequently exceeded the maximum sentence for the alleged crime.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. There were numerous reports of lost trial documents, often when the accused was a government official. NGOs stated judicial corruption was a problem.
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; to a fair, timely, and public trial; to be present at their trial; to communicate with an attorney of their choice or have one provided at public expense if unable to pay; to have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense; to 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 interpreter assistance depended on availability and cost. Limited access to interpreters sometimes delayed trials. According to civil society groups, interpretation standards were low and sometimes compromised the accuracy of exchanges between a defendant and officers of the court. Judges sometimes transferred cases from rural to urban areas to access interpreters more easily.
Although detainees and defendants have the right to legal counsel provided and funded by the state when “substantial injustice would otherwise result,” this right was limited due to a general lack of information regarding rights to legal representation and inadequate government funding of such legal services. There is no automatic right to appeal unless a convicted individual is younger than 16, but courts may give defendants permission to do so. Additionally, the law provides for the High Court to review magistrate court sentences exceeding six months.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts, including equality courts designated to hear matters relating to unfair discrimination, hate speech and harassment, and 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 does not recognize the competence of the court.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The constitution and law prohibit such actions. There were no reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions. Civil society organizations raised concerns government management of the COVID-19 pandemic employed telephonic contact tracing that violated privacy rights. In April the government issued amended disaster management regulations. While the regulations recognized the right to privacy, the government urged citizens to make concessions until pandemic emergency measures were no longer necessary.