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 child 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 survivor, which contributed to a reluctance to press charges. NGOs stated that cases were underreported, especially in rural communities, due to stigma, unfair treatment, fear, intimidation, and lack of trust in the criminal justice system. There were numerous reports of rapes by police officers of: sex workers; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons; incarcerated persons; and others (see also section 1.c.).
According to SAPS crime statistics, in 2019/2020, there were 42,289 rapes reported and 7,2749 sexual assaults. In July a gang of gunmen forced their way into a music video shoot near a mine dump in Krugersdorp, a city west of Johannesburg. The gang members raped eight young women from the cast and crew while they were offloading equipment and preparing the set. Authorities arrested members of the gang.
The Department of Justice operated 96 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 survivor’s behavior or relationship to the rapist, as a basis for imposing lighter sentences.
The government provided funding for, and the National Prosecuting Authority operated, 51 rape management centers, addressing the rights and needs of survivors and vulnerable persons, including legal assistance. A key objective of the centers was prosecution of sexual, domestic violence, and child-abuse offenders. Approximately 75 percent of the cases they took to trial resulted in convictions.
Domestic violence was pervasive and included physical, sexual, emotional, and verbal abuse, as well as harassment and stalking. For example, on February 9, a police officer in uniform shot and killed his girlfriend while she was at work as a nurse at Tembisa Hospital in Ekurhuleni. He was charged with murder and was awaiting trial. 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 survivors from domestic violence, but police commanders did not always hold officers accountable. Conviction of violating a protection order is punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment and up to 20 years’ imprisonment if convicted of additional criminal charges. 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. A November 2021 report by Human Rights Watch criticized the government for not providing adequate or timely funding for existing shelters.
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.
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. The government, however, did not enforce the law effectively as there were no known cases of imprisonment of perpetrators of sexual harassment.
Enforcement against workplace harassment is initially left to employers to address as part of internal disciplinary procedures. The Department of Employment and Labour (Department of Labour) 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. The government urged employers to institutionalize the Code of Good Practice on the Prevention and Elimination of Harassment in the Workplace, which was published on March 18. The code reflects recent developments in case law and statutes. It provides guidelines on the prevention and elimination of all forms of harassment, including procedures to address harassment.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of forced abortion on the part of government authorities; however, during the year there were reports of forced sterilizations submitted to the Commission for Gender Equality and civil society organizations. In February the commission received a complaint from the Women’s Legal Centre on behalf of Her Rights Initiative and the International Community of Women Living with HIV on forced sterilizations. According to the NGO Her Rights Initiative, the majority of those forced into sterilization were HIV positive.
The full range of contraception methods, including emergency contraception, were available at all primary health-care clinics for free. Emergency health care was available for the treatment of complications arising from unsafe abortion.
The government provided access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. The country has laws and policies to respond to gender-based violence and femicide, although authorities did not fully implement these policies and enforce relevant law. The law provides for survivors of gender-based violence to receive shelter and comprehensive care, including treatment of injuries, a forensic examination, pregnancy and HIV testing, provision of postexposure prophylaxis, and counseling rehabilitation services.
According to the Saving Mothers Report 2017/2019, there has been a progressive and sustained reduction in institutional maternal mortality in the past three triennia (2010 to 2019), from 320 per 100,000 live births to 120 per 100,000 live births. The report further identified that a significant systemic driver contributing to mortality was the length of time it took for emergency service personnel to arrive at a facility where a skilled birth attendant could deal with an emergency. In June 2021, the National Department of Health officially launched the Maternal, Perinatal and Neonatal Health Policy, working towards the Sustainable Development Goal of reducing maternal mortality to below 70 per 100,000 live births and neonatal mortality to 12 deaths per 1,000 live births. The country has a policy to reduce institutional maternal mortality, neonatal mortality, and stillbirths by 50 percent by 2030. The policy provides a framework to improve the delivery of quality, comprehensive, and integrated maternal and neonatal health services. Maternal HIV testing and access to antiretroviral therapy has significantly reduced deaths from nonpregnancy related infections and new HIV infections in children, with a reported reduction in infant polymerase chain reaction positivity at 10 weeks of age from 4.3 percent in 2015/16 to 0.68 percent in 2019/20. According to a June article in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes, antiretroviral therapy and condom promotion contributed significantly to the decline in the HIV incidence in the country.
Menstruation and access to menstruation hygiene affected girls’ attendance at school. One NGO estimated 30 percent of girls did not attend school while they menstruated, due to lack of access to sanitary products. During the year observers noted substantial increases in teenage pregnancies, which also affected girls’ attendance at school.
In February the National Department of Basic Education (DBE) officially launched the National Policy on the Prevention and Management of Learner Pregnancy as part of the Comprehensive Sexuality Education programs in schools. The policy aimed to support an environment to enable female learners to stay in school and prevent discrimination and the stigmatization of pregnant learners. It was expected that the policy would further play a crucial role in preventing learner pregnancy through access to comprehensive pregnancy prevention information and School Reproductive Health Services.
The DBE policy was formulated following a 2013 Constitutional Court ruling that found that expelling two pregnant learners from two schools was a violation of learners’ right to equality, right to basic education, human dignity, privacy, bodily and psychological integrity. Pregnant students were previously suspended from schooling until the following school year regardless of their school grade, age, or when the baby was born. In response, following extensive consultations, the DBE policy provided guidance on reducing unintended and unwanted pregnancies, managing the pre- and postnatal effects for affected learners, limiting associated stigma and discrimination, and retaining and re-enrolling affected learners in school.
Specifically, a pregnant learner must be allowed to remain in school during her pregnancy and to return as soon after giving birth as is appropriate for both the learner and her child. The learner’s school management is required to make reasonable accommodation of the learner; meaning allowance, as necessary, of short- to medium-term absences from school and an undertaking to retain the learner’s place in the school.
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 discrimination in courts, but access to legal counsel was costly.
By law 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 law expressly prohibits unequal pay for work of equal value and discriminatory practices, including separate pension funds for different groups in a company (see section 7.d.).
Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence or Discrimination
There were numerous reports of racial discrimination, despite the prohibition under the constitution of unfair discrimination against anyone on one or more grounds, including on the ground of race. The South African Human Rights Commission stated in June that gross inequality was fueling racism and racial polarization. The Department of Human Settlements acknowledged inequality along racial lines had affected and continued to affect the country’s segregated spatial development as well as poor communities’ access to reliable infrastructure. Approximately 300 Equality Courts mandated by the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act resolved only 600 matters a year. Authorities enforced antidiscrimination provisions in some cases. In November a woman from Gauteng Province was arrested and charged with crimen injuria, an act that injures the dignity of another person, after her racist rants were widely viewed on-line. She was due to appear in court in March 2023.
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 the country’s serious and violent crimes.”
Local community or political leaders who sought to gain prominence in their communities allegedly instigated some attacks on African migrants and ethnic minorities (see section 6, Other Social Violence and Discrimination).
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. The 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 2014 the government recognized the Khoi and San people as the rightful originators of rooibos tea. Five years later, the government reached a benefit-sharing agreement with the National Khoi and San Council and the South African San Council to share profits from the rooibos tea industry.
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 (see section 2.g., Stateless Persons). 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. Organizations such as Lawyers for Human Rights continued to draw attention to the problem of statelessness among children born in the country to both citizens and foreign nationals.
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 the law, noncitizen children were sometimes denied access to education based on their inability to produce identification documents, such as birth certificates and immunization documents (see also section 6, Women, Reproductive Rights).
Child Abuse:The law criminalizes child abuse. Violence against children, including domestic violence and sexual abuse, remained widespread. Civil society and academics documented evidence that experiencing child maltreatment and witnessing partner abuse in the home as a child increased the risk of becoming both a perpetrator and victim of sexual and intimate partner violence as an adult, contributing to intergenerational abuse and violence. There were government efforts to combat child abuse. The Western Cape High Court sentenced a foster mother to 30 years’ imprisonment for the murder of a baby, age nine months, in her care.
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.
Child, 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 human trafficking offense. The National Prosecuting Authority prosecuted multiple cases of forced marriage.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation, sale, and offering or procurement of children for commercial sex and child pornography. The government enforced the law. The Film and Publications Board maintained a website and a toll-free hotline for the public to report incidents of child pornography. Online sexual exploitation of children continued in the country, potentially made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown. Government authorities from the Department of Social Development and SAPS conducted educational outreach programs on the dangers of online recruitment and grooming. Media, government, and civil society reported that children were made more vulnerable to trafficking, particularly girls to sexual exploitation and trafficking, because of the pandemic’s economic impacts. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16.
According to a 2020 study published by the Isaac and Jessie Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Cape Town and the United Kingdom-based Institute for Jewish Policy Research, the country’s Jewish population stood at 52,300, with the majority living in Cape Town and Johannesburg. The South African Jewish Board of Deputies recorded 68 antisemitic incidents; the bulk of the incidents occurred in May during the conflict between Israel and Hamas. There were reports of verbal abuse and hate speech, especially in social media and radio talk shows, and attacks on Jewish persons or property.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Ritual (muthi) killings to obtain body parts believed by some to enhance traditional medicine persisted. Police estimated organ harvesting for traditional medicine resulted in more than 50 killings per year. In May a Mpumalanga child, age six years, was mutilated by individuals who allegedly thought that doing so would boost their business. Five suspects were arrested, and the case was ongoing. In June three bodies of mutilated children were discovered in KwaZulu-Natal. Authorities had not made any arrests at year’s end.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity or Expression, or Sex Characteristics
Criminalization: No laws criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults or so-called cross dressing.
Violence against LGBTQI+ Persons: Despite government policies prohibiting discrimination, there were reports of official mistreatment or discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. A 2018 University of Cape Town report underscored violence and discrimination, particularly against lesbians and transgender individuals. The report documented cases of “secondary victimization” of lesbians, including cases in which police harassed, ridiculed, and assaulted victims of gender-based violence who reported abuse. LGBTQI+ individuals were particularly vulnerable to violent crime due to anti-LGBTQI+ attitudes within the community and among police. Anti-LGBTQI+ attitudes of junior members of SAPS affected how they handled complaints by LGBTQI+ individuals. According to Mamba Online, a gay news and lifestyle website, as of October, nine LGBTQI+ persons had been killed. One NGO in Durban claimed most hate crime victims did not report their cases to police due to secondary victimization; several activists accused religious leaders of not condemning hate crimes and killings against the LGBTQI+ community.
Discrimination: The constitution prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. The law prohibits discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services such as health care. The government was making some efforts to enforce this law. The Department of Basic Education issued new draft guidelines for the Socio-Educational Inclusion of Diverse Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, Expression and Sex Characteristics in schools, which are intended to create a more inclusive and affirming environment for LGBTQI+ students. The guidelines recommend that schools provide gender-neutral toilets and changing rooms.
Availability of Legal Gender Recognition:The law allows transgender individuals to change their legal gender markers; however, the strict requirements of the law impose barriers on legal gender recognition that left many transgender persons without accurate identity documents. The law requires that medical or surgical gender reassignment procedures have taken place. Because the law requires a medical diagnosis along with some sort of medical intervention, many transgender persons could not obtain legal gender recognition.
Involuntary or Coercive Medical or Psychological Practices Specifically Targeting LGBTQI+ Individuals: Some traditional leaders, religious institutions, and parents continued to conduct so-called conversion therapy. A March article in the Mail & Guardian stated that a lesbian woman in Johannesburg underwent so-called conversion therapy at the hands of her pastor. Homophobic rape, often referred to as “corrective” rape, was a common practice in the country.
Restrictions of Freedom of Expression, Association, or Peaceful Assembly: There were no reports of restrictions on those speaking out on LGBTQI+ topics. LGBTQI+ organizations were able to register and convene events.
Persons with Disabilities
Persons with disabilities could access education, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others. The government provided government information and communication in accessible formats. 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 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 Labour ran vocational centers at which persons with disabilities learned income-generating skills. Nevertheless, government and private-sector employment discrimination existed. 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 2020-2021 Annual Report of the Department of Basic Education (DBE) 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. The department’s report noted progress toward a more inclusive basic education and cited expansion of “special schools” and increased enrollment of students with disabilities in both special and public schools. 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 in 2021 that children with disabilities were often denied tuition waivers or tuition reductions provided to other children. Children often were held 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. Youth with disabilities in school faced problems of access (for example assistive equipment and technology; availability of learning materials in braille) and discriminatory attitudes that prevent their full and effective participation.
Since July 2021, the Pretoria High Court continued to subpoena Gauteng health officials to testify regarding the 2016 “Life Esidimeni Scandal.” In 2016 the government of Gauteng transferred 1,500 psychiatric patients to 100 facilities, and 140 of the patients died from starvation, dehydration, and severely inadequate care.
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.
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 country experienced more than 1,500 incidents of vigilantism and mob violence, including xenophobic and anticrime vigilantism, often targeting Zimbabwean migrants. These attacks led to more than 200 fatalities and hundreds of injuries between January and September. Police were sometimes involved in the violence; however, more frequently, police were accused of condoning violence, particularly xenophobic, vigilantism, or political violence. Shenilla Mohammed, executive director of Amnesty International South Africa, stated in April, “This ongoing violence also highlights the inaction of police and a lack of political will within government to address the problem. In each case, the deaths of locals and migrants were entirely preventable.” The antimigrant group Operation Dudula, which was created during the riots in July 2021, was able to organize and mobilize quickly and escalated the pace of its demonstrations and attacks, particularly in Soweto and Johannesburg.
There were several political killings during by-elections. In February gunmen shot and killed Thembinkosi Lombo, an ANC ward councilor in the Mvoti Municipality in KwaZulu-Natal. According to media reports, the National Task Team established to investigate political violence and killings in KwaZulu-Natal arrested a suspect in connection with Lombo’s death. In March assailants killed Mpho Mofokeng, a ward councilor in the City of Johannesburg. No arrests were made for Mofokeng’s killing. In KwaZulu-Natal in May assailants killed S’fiso Ngcobo, the leader of the eKhenana land occupation, a shack dwellers movement. Two activists, one from eKhenana and another from a related organization, were killed in March.
Courts convicted few perpetrators of political violence. Media and NGOs claimed most killings were a result of power, patronage, and systemic corruption. Many killings were related to local-level intraparty ANC disputes, often in the context of competition for resources. In February, Minister of Police Bheki Cele told the press that the primary motives for such killings were intrapolitical and taxi matter conflicts.
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. Many individuals did not seek access to health services due to the fear of the stigma and discrimination. A community outreach study was conducted in 2021 among a commuter population in Johannesburg to identify the factors related to HIV stigma in the city. The study found that 51 percent of respondents reported a high level of stigma and discrimination.