South Africa has been a leader in human rights in the African continent since the end of apartheid. The nation has many protections for civil liberties, but the status of human rights in South Africa has been threatened by government inaction and possible corruption, as well as a rising tide of xenophobic sentiments. Here are nine facts about human rights in South Africa.
Human Rights in South Africa:
- Freedom of expression, religion, and the press are constitutionally protected human rights in South Africa. However, the freedom of media has been a concern after the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) made moves that threatened the credibility of South Africa’s state-run media. ISABC chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng used the SABC to protect the reputation of South African President Jacob Zuma. Motsoeneng accomplished this by banning coverage of violent political protests, firing journalists who criticized the ban, refusing to air political advertisements and directing journalists cover Zuma positively. Motsoeneng was ordered to step down by the South African judiciary, but he was later rehired in a different role only to once again be forced to step down by the courts two months later.
- A recently proposed hate crime bill could further threaten freedom of speech in South Africa. Critics have stated that it’s too broad in its criminalization of hate speech and could severely limit the ability of South Africans to express controversial opinions.
- Freedom to peacefully protest and assemble is also a constitutional right in South Africa. While protesters must notify the police ahead of time, they are rarely denied assembly. Recently, skirmishes between student protesters and the police have turned violent, and many have criticized the police for using unnecessary force.
- Deaths through police action have declined from previous years, but police violence still remains an issue in South Africa. From 2015-2016 there have been hundreds of reported cases of assault, torture and rape committed by police officers and deaths in police custody.
- Since the end of apartheid, South Africa has implemented many anti-discrimination protections. However, the effects are still felt today. Though white people are a minority in South Africa, they still own the majority of business assets and farmland in the region. Opportunities for non-whites remain comparatively restricted.
- South Africa has a highly progressive asylum policy for refugees. From 2006-2012, it accepted more refugees than any other nation in the world. Rather than being stuck in camps, refugees in South Africa live in cities and access the same public utilities that South Africans do. Unfortunately, strong anti-immigrant rhetoric and frustrations with South African governance have resulted in many violent attacks against foreigners.
- South Africa has failed to provide children with disabilities equal opportunities for education. Disabled children can be denied access to public schools and forced to attend special schools. South Africa has free public education, but parents are forced to pay fees if they have a disabled child in a special school. The UN has recommended that South Africa review its policies to make education more inclusive.
- South African law enforces gender equality and women currently make up 42 percent of National Assembly seats. However, women are often subject to discrimination, paid less than their male counterparts and occupy fewer roles of authority in business. In addition, domestic violence and rape are highly underreported crimes in South Africa. In 2006, President Jacob Zuma faced rape charges that he was later cleared of. The trial elicited concern from anti-rape activists due to the intense heckling of the alleged victim, the cross-examination of the alleged victim’s sexual history and Zuma’s own comments on their sexual encounter.
- Nearly 20 percent of adults and nearly one-third of pregnant women in South Africa live with HIV. The government has made moves to effectively treat its population through improving access to antiretroviral therapy. It also launched a She Conquers campaign that confronts the high rates of HIV in young women and aims to reduce teenage pregnancy.
Human rights in South Africa are pretty well protected. However, working towards an equitable society and holding the state accountable will be necessary for preserving these rights.
– Carson Hughes