Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes domestic violence and rape of men or women, including spousal rape, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. The minimum sentence for conviction of rape is 10 years’ imprisonment. 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 of rape and domestic violence, attackers were acquaintances or family members of the victim that, together with societal attitudes, contributed to a reluctance to press charges. There were numerous reported abuses similar to the following example. In August a postal worker attacked, raped, and killed a 19-year-old woman in a post office after it was closed. The postal worker had previously been convicted of armed robbery and had been accused of raping another woman. He was convicted of rape and murder and sentenced to three consecutive terms of life in prison.
From April 1, 2018, through March 31, 2019, 42,091 cases of rape were reported. According to the National Prosecuting Authority 2018–2019 Annual Report, the conviction rate for sexual offense crimes was 74.4 percent based on a sample of 4,716 cases that were “finalized” or investigated first as rape cases before being passed to the NPA and tried. A 2017 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. Inadequate police training, insufficient forensic lab capacity, a shortage of rape kits, and overburdened courts contributed to low prosecution and conviction rates.
The Department of Justice operated 74 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 Thuthuzela Care Centers (TCCs). All TCCs were located at hospitals. Reports of sexual offenses received by TCCs increased 1.7 percent to 34,558 (64 percent of which were rape cases). The TCCs reported a conviction rate of 73.5 percent of rape cases tried.
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, and up to 20 years’ imprisonment 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. On March 28, then president Ramaphosa signed a declaration against gender-based violence against women (GBVAW) and femicide (the killing of a girl or woman, in particular by a man and on account of her gender) that provided for the establishment of the GBVAW Council and National Strategic Plan for Gender-Based Violence and Femicide. In April the Department of Higher Education published its GBVAW Policy Framework. In September President Ramaphosa addressed the GBVAW crisis at an emergency joint session of parliament to address xenophobic and gender-based violence, at which he pledged one billion rand ($693 million) to combat GBVAW.
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 prohibited by law, sexual harassment remained a widespread problem. Sexual harassment is a criminal offense for which conviction includes fines and sentences of up to five years’ imprisonment.
Enforcement against workplace harassment is initially left to employers to address as part of internal disciplinary procedures. 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.
NGOs reported widespread sexual harassment of women in the major political parties. There were numerous reported abuses similar to the following example. Based upon allegations of sexual harassment and rape, in February the ANC suspended the party’s official spokesperson, Pule Mabe, and one of its acting spokespersons (and head of the presidency within the party) Zizi Kodwa. Only two of the seven major parties have policies against sexual harassment.
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 separate pension funds for different groups in a company.
Birth Registration: The law provides for citizenship by birth (if at least one parent is a permanent resident or citizen), descent, and naturalization. Registration of births was inconsistent, especially in remote rural areas and by parents who were unregistered foreign nationals. Children without birth registration had no access to 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; therefore, disadvantaged children, who were mainly black, were eligible for financial 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 based on their inability to produce identification documents, such as birth certificates and immunization documents.
Child Abuse: The law criminalizes child abuse. 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.
There were numerous abuses similar to the following example. In September the Gauteng High Court convicted a man of raping a seven-year-old girl in a restaurant bathroom. He was convicted on two counts of rape and sentenced to life imprisonment.
There were reports of abuse of students by teachers and other school staff, including reports of assault and rape. The law requires schools to disclose sexual abuse to authorities, but administrators sometimes concealed sexual violence or delayed taking disciplinary action.
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 14 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. For additional information, see Appendix C.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation, sale, and offering or procurement of children for prostitution and child pornography. Conviction includes fines and 10 years’ imprisonment. The Film and Publications Board maintained a website and a toll-free hotline for the public to report incidents of child pornography. On October 31, Johannes Oelofse of Alberton in Gauteng Province was sentenced to life imprisonment for conviction of repeatedly raping his mentally disabled daughter over the course of eight years.
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/reported-cases.html.
The South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) estimated the Jewish community at 60,000 persons. The SAJBD recorded 62 anti-Semitic incidents in 2018, compared with 44 in 2017. There were reports of verbal abuse, hate speech, harassment, and attacks on Jewish persons or property.
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 https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
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. The law, however, prohibits persons identified by the courts as having a mental disability 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 income-generating skills. Nevertheless, government and private-sector employment 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.
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 2017–2018 Annual Report of the Department of Basic Education stated 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. Human Rights Watch reported that children with disabilities were often denied tuition waivers or tuition reductions provided to other children. 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 for them. Many blind and deaf children in mainstream schools received only basic care rather than education.
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.
Incidents of racism continued. There were numerous reports of racially motivated abuses similar to the following examples. In June the Council on Medical Schemes launched an investigation into alleged discrimination against black and Indian medical professionals in the private health-care sector who stated that medical insurance companies denied payment of their medical-services claims on racial grounds. During the year the SABC revealed allegations that the FNB bank charged black homebuyers up to 40 percent more for mortgages than they charged whites.
Some advocacy groups asserted white farmers were racially targeted for burglaries, home invasions, and killings, while many observers 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.” According to SAPS National Crime Statistics 2018/2019, farm killings represented only 0.2 percent of all killings in the country (47 of 21,022).
Local community or political leaders who sought to gain notoriety in their communities allegedly instigated some attacks on African migrants and ethnic minorities (see section 2.d., Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons). 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 sporadic and often slow and inadequate. 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 and other resources, minimal access to education, and relative isolation.
In August the president signed into law the Protection, Promotion, Development and Management of Indigenous Knowledge Bill that established the National Indigenous Knowledge Systems Office, which is responsible for managing indigenous communities’ rights.
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 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services such as health care. In March the High Court of Gauteng ruled that the Dutch Methodist Church’s ban on solemnizing same-sex marriages was unconstitutional.
Despite government policies prohibiting discrimination, there were reports of official mistreatment or discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. For example, there were reports of security force members raping LGBTI individuals during arrest. A 2018 University of Cape Town report underscored violence and discrimination, particularly against lesbians and transgender. The report documented cases of “secondary victimization” of lesbians, including cases in which police harassed, ridiculed, and assaulted victims of sexual violence and gender-based violence 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 of junior members of SAPS affected how they handled complaints by LGBTI individuals.
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 June Deputy President David Mabuza stated, “We are not doing well in preventing new (HIV) infections. It is estimated that there are approximately 250,000 new infections annually, and our target is to get below 100,000 new infections by December 2020. This gap is big, and it must be closed.” For additional information, see Appendix C.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
There were reports 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.
In August a court convicted a teacher in Mpumalanga of murdering and dismembering a teenage student with albinism. The suspect was convicted and sentenced to imprisonment of two life terms. Several alleged accomplices pled not guilty and are scheduled for trial in 2020.
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 killings per year.
Discrimination against members of religious groups occurred. In June a female SANDF member was ordered to remove her religious headscarf from beneath her military beret. She refused the order. SANDF authorities instituted a review of the dress code and provided her with relief from removal of her headscarf during the review. The review continued at year’s end.