Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is illegal and 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.
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. From April 2016 to March 2017, 39,828 cases of rape were reported. According to the 2016-2017 NPA Annual Report, the conviction rate for sexual offense crimes was 72 percent. This was, however, only related to cases that went to trial. A recent Medical Research Council study on the investigation, prosecution, and adjudication of reported rape cases concluded only 18.5 percent of all 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 57 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 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.
According to SAPS the number of incidents of violence against women and children had drastically increased nationwide. For example, in August former deputy minister of higher education Mduduzi Manana pled guilty to charges of assaulting three women; he was fired from his ministerial position and awaited sentencing. In April, Karabo Mokoena was killed, allegedly by her boyfriend. Mokoena’s charred remains were discovered in an open field in Johannesburg. The trial of the accused, Sandile Mantsoe, was set for March 2018.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C, 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 more information, see data.unicef.org/resources/female-genital-mutilation-cutting-country-profiles/.
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.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/.
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 could challenge traditional land tenure decisions in national 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 (see section 7.d.).
According to the Labor Department’s 2016-17 Employment Equity Report, women held 22 percent of top management positions, 33 percent of senior management positions, and 46 percent of professional positions. Women held 39 percent of public sector senior management positions.
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 healthcare, and their parents had no access to financial grants for their children. For additional information, see Appendix C.
Education: Public education is compulsory until age 15 or grade nine. Public education was 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.
Child Abuse: 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.
Student-on-student violence, including racially motivated violence and drug-related 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 older 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 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 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.
Traffickers in the sex trade exploited other children. Traffickers often recruited children from poor rural areas and moved them to urban centers such as Bloemfontein, Cape Town, Durban, and Johannesburg. 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.
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 were quoted throughout the year making anti-Semitic statements.
In January twin brothers Brandon Lee Thulsie and Tony Lee Thulsie appeared in court to face charges of contravening the Protection of Constitutional Democracy Against Terror and Related Activities. The brothers, along with two others, who were alleged to have links to ISIS, were arrested in 2016 for allegedly planning to set off explosives at a foreign embassy in Pretoria and Jewish institutions in the country. The case continued at year’s end.
On June 29, the South African Equality Court ruled that Bongani Masuku, International Relations Secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, issue a formal apology to the South African Jewish community for anti-Semitic comments he made in 2009. On May 29, a high school student from Edenvale High School in Johannesburg interrupted a Holocaust-related theater performance with anti-Semitic statements. The student and the school’s principal later apologized and the school agreed to work with the Jewish community to improve sensitivity training for students.
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. 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 2016-2017 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 under the 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. 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 and 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 than children without disabilities to have experienced sexual abuse in the home.
According to the umbrella advocacy group Disabled People South Africa 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. 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.
In September a video clip of a Johannesburg woman on a bus beating a pupil with a disability went viral. In the clip the pupil, who has bipolar disorder, is seen being beaten with bare fists. The bus driver is seen stopping the altercation and forcefully pushing the child off the bus. The attacker, a school cook, was charged with assault and suspended. The bus driver was also suspended.
The law requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide for previously disadvantaged groups, legally defined as “Africans or blacks,” “Coloureds,” and “Asians” (collectively constituting more than 90 percent of the population) to be represented adequately at all levels of the workforce. Nevertheless, blacks remained underrepresented, at the professional and managerial levels (see section 7.d.). According to the 2016-2017 Employment Equity Report, whites occupied 69 percent of top management positions, 58 percent of senior management positions, and 38 percent of professionally qualified positions, while comprising only 10 percent of the population.
Incidents of racism continued. In March a video clip of a white man threatening to attack a black woman inside a restaurant went viral on social media. The man had approached the woman to alert her that his child was bullied by her child, to which the woman responded that his child was the one who started the bullying.
In July a white man out with a group of friends allegedly made a racist remark to a group of black Stellenbosch University students. A physical alteration ensued between the two groups; one of the black students suffered a bloodied nose and another an injured jaw. No one was arrested.
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 significantly reduced 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.
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 law outlaws discrimination based on sexual orientation. According to a study by the NGO The Other Foundation, 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 individuals during arrest. A 2015 Human Rights Watch report highlighted violence and discrimination, particularly against lesbians and transgender individuals 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 2014 Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry Report, 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 2015 the country’s LGBTI rapid response team, a body consisting of various government agencies and NGOs, 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.
In April, Nonkie Smous, a lesbian in Kroonstad, was gang-raped, murdered, and set on fire. On previous occasions she was both raped and gang-raped because of her sexual orientation. No arrests were made.
In September an Equality Court case ended in victory for a lesbian who was banned from a restaurant’s “straight couples only” date night events. In 2016 Mia Agrela had made a reservation for the restaurant’s weekly date night evening with her partner. She was informed in a follow up message that “no same sex couples” were allowed, so she filed a discrimination case in the Equality Court. The restaurant agreed to stop excluding same-sex couples from its events and the owners agreed to apologize for their actions and to undergo sensitivity training.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
The social stigma associated with HIV/AIDS remained a problem, especially in rural communities. In 2015 the South African National AIDS Council (SANAC)–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 about their experiences with social stigma. For additional information, see Appendix C.
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.
SANAC lately played a leading role in driving a comprehensive 360-degree Stigma and Discrimination Mitigation Program, presenting a multisectoral response that included PLHIV organizations, SAG agencies, civil society, and development partners.
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, particularly in Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Eastern Cape, and KwaZulu-Natal provinces.