Last Updated: Friday, 27 May 2016, 08:49 GMT

State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2011 - South Africa

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 6 July 2011
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2011 - South Africa, 6 July 2011, available at: [accessed 28 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Although women's rights are enshrined in the South African Constitution, women continue to suffer from mistreatment as patriarchal attitudes prevail within the dominant culture. Women are more likely to experience unemployment than men, to have lower levels of education, and to experience violence. Women living in rural communities that follow customary law can be particularly vulnerable to discrimination, as some traditional practices undermine the rights women have under civil law.

A recent study by Community Agency for Social Enquiry (CASE) on women and their access to land ownership shows that even though women's rights are increasingly recognized, conservative attitudes continue to form a barrier to women in accessing land. Of the three areas studied, the municipality of Msinga in KwaZulu-Natal, reputedly a stronghold of Zulu culture and tradition, was found to have the most conservative attitudes towards women and land ownership. Zulu women in Msinga continue to have to rely on male members of their family to access land, as traditions dictate that women can only inherit land through their husbands or in-laws, or through the eldest male child. In the case of polygamous marriages, only the first wife has a right to inherit her deceased husband's land, unless he has made specific arrangements indicating otherwise. To protect widows from potential landlessness, it is customary for men to marry their brother's widow. However, this often does not happen, and women can be chased away from their homes by their in-laws upon the death of their spouse.

In contrast to women who are affected by traditional customs, Muslim women face discrimination because Islamic marriages are not legally recognized in South Africa. The 2010 case of a Muslim woman in Cape Town, represented by the Women's Legal Centre (WLC), highlights the consequences of such discrimination. The client asked for and was awarded 50 per cent ownership of a property she had previously shared with her ex-husband, on the grounds that, at the time, she had not been allowed to purchase the property jointly because she was not married to her husband under civil law. As a result, the sole ownership rights were transferred to her spouse upon their divorce. Although the Cape Town Housing Policy has now been changed, those in living arrangements agreed upon before the change in policy are still vulnerable to its discriminatory effects.

In February 2010, the Muslim Marriage Bill came under discussion. The aim of the bill is to uphold and protect the constitutional rights of individuals, while respecting the religious significance of marrying under Islamic law for South African Muslims. If passed, the bill would address issues such as the lack of protection available to women married under Islamic law, who subsequently divorce or become widowed. At the beginning of 2011, the draft of the Muslim Marriage Bill was approved by the cabinet and put forward for discussion in parliament.

Gender-based violence is part of the reality for many South African women. For women who are marginalized by mainstream society, this is of particular concern, as violence towards them may be more easily accepted, making support less readily available. In the case of 'corrective' rape, lesbian women (or women assumed to be lesbian) are targeted by heterosexual men who rape them in an attempt to 'change their sexuality'. This practice received global attention in 2010 when members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in South Africa launched a worldwide petition demanding that 'corrective' rape be listed as a hate crime in South Africa, and that the harshest sentences be made applicable for perpetrators. But during the same period, concerns regarding the humiliating and violent sexual assaults faced by migrants crossing the border from Zimbabwe into South Africa at the hands of armed men and women, known as magumaguma, were overshadowed by the FIFA World Cup, held in June and July of 2010.

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