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Amnesty International Annual Report 2012 - South Africa

Publisher Amnesty International
Publication Date 24 May 2012
Cite as Amnesty International, Amnesty International Annual Report 2012 - South Africa, 24 May 2012, available at: [accessed 24 January 2018]
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.

Head of state and government: Jacob G. Zuma
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes
Population: 50.5 million
Life expectancy: 52.8 years
Under-5 mortality: 61.9 per 1,000
Adult literacy: 88.7 per cent

There were substantial improvements in access to treatment and care for people living with HIV. However, discriminatory factors still limited their access to HIV health services, particularly in rural areas. Discrimination and targeted violence against asylum-seekers and refugees occurred and policy changes reduced their access to the asylum system. Police used excessive force against protesters, and their misuse of lethal force remained a concern. Systematic hate-motivated violence against lesbians, gay men, bisexual and transgender people began to be officially addressed. The National Assembly passed the Protection of State Information Bill, which threatened freedom of expression.


High levels of poverty, inequality and unemployment continued to fuel protests in poor urban communities. Local government authorities were often the targets of these protests because of corrupt practices or slow delivery of basic services. Some members of President Zuma's government and senior police officials were dismissed or suspended pending investigations into alleged corruption. There was increasing concern that the conduct of state business was being affected by political tensions within the ruling African National Congress party linked to its 2012 national conference, in which the party's new leadership will be elected. Significant rulings by the higher courts compelled the government to amend or reverse decisions affecting the independence and integrity of prosecution and investigation bodies. There was widespread opposition to proposed legislation curbing access to state information.

Right to health – people living with HIV

An estimated 5.38 million people were living with HIV. The number of AIDS patients receiving antiretroviral treatment had increased to 1.4 million people by the end of June. This resulted from progress in implementing new policies and guidelines, including people being able to access treatment at an earlier stage of the disease and expanding access to treatment at the primary health clinic level.

Despite these improvements, discrimination still prevented many from accessing HIV-related health services, particularly people living in poor rural households. Their access to treatment or their ability to remain on treatment continued to be affected by the cost and unreliability of local transport systems and poor road infrastructure in rural communities. Food insecurity, as well as arbitrary processes and decision-making regarding people's eligibility for support grants, were also important factors. Persistent patriarchal attitudes continued to affect rural women's access to services and their autonomy in making decisions about their own sexual and reproductive health.

In October, the Ministry of Health launched a new Human Resources for Health Strategy. Its aims included solving the country's critical shortage of public health care professionals, particularly in rural areas, which are home to 44 per cent of the population but served by less than 20 per cent of the country's nurses and doctors.

On World AIDS Day on 1 December, following a national consultation led by the South African National AIDS Council (SANAC), the government launched a new five-year National Strategic Plan for HIV and AIDS, sexually transmitted infections and tuberculosis. The document was intended to guide the efforts of provincial governments and other institutions to achieve five main goals. These included ensuring access to antiretroviral treatment for at least 80 per cent of those needing it, reducing HIV-related social stigma and protecting the rights of people living with HIV.

In December, civil society organizations launched the National Health Insurance Coalition to campaign for adopting a scheme to reduce inequalities in access to health services.

Refugees and asylum-seekers

The government initiated potentially far-reaching changes to the asylum system, including access to asylum determination procedures. In May, the Department of Home Affairs closed the Johannesburg Refugee Reception Office following successful litigation for closure by local businesses. No alternative office was opened. All applicants for asylum or recognized refugees needing to renew their documents were directed to two existing and over-burdened refugee reception offices in Pretoria. In the following months, new or "transferred" applicants struggled to gain access to Home Affairs officials there. Some queued repeatedly from the early morning and were subjected to verbal abuse or beatings with sjamboks (whips) and batons by security personnel, according to evidence submitted in the North Gauteng High Court. Their inability to lodge applications or renew their documents left them at risk of fines, detention and direct or constructive refoulement.

On 14 December, the High Court found unlawful the decision not to open a new refugee reception office in Johannesburg, and ordered the Director General of Home Affairs to reconsider it and consult those most affected. Evidence had emerged during the court proceedings that the refusal to open a new office was linked to a government decision to move all asylum services to ports of entry. The case was brought by the Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa and the Coordinating Body of the Refugee Communities, with the assistance of Lawyers for Human Rights. At the end of the year legal proceedings challenging the closure of the Port Elizabeth Refugee Reception Office were postponed until February 2012.

In August, the Department of Home Affairs stated that only Zimbabweans without valid immigration or asylum permits would be deported when the 2009 moratorium against deportations of Zimbabweans was lifted in September. However, when the moratorium ended, human rights organizations and the International Organization of Migration recorded incidents of refoulement and unaccompanied minors being deported without proper measures to protect them.

Violence and property destruction targeted against refugees and migrants occurred in many areas throughout the year. Local business forums appeared to be linked to many of the attacks. During May, over 60 foreign-owned shops were forcibly closed, looted or destroyed completely in different areas of Gauteng province and in the Motherwell area of Port Elizabeth. Police officers in the Ramaphosa informal settlement area near Johannesburg condoned or actively participated in the Greater Gauteng Business Forum's action, including threatening non-nationals with violence and forcibly closing or removing property from their shops.

In many of these attacks, local police stations failed to call in reinforcements to stop the violence from spreading. However, despite the efforts of humanitarian and civil society organizations, by the end of the year the police authorities had still not set up a systematic and effective national strategy for preventing or reducing violence against refugees and migrants.

In October, police allegedly used excessive force during mass arrests of "suspected illegal foreign nationals" in Nyanga township, Cape Town, and verbally abused them as unwanted foreigners. Those affected included recognized refugees who had shown their documents to the police. One refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who required medical treatment for his injuries, was actively obstructed from lodging a formal complaint against the police.

Death penalty

On 22 September, the High Court ruled in a case involving two Botswanan nationals that the government must not extradite individuals at risk of the death penalty, without first receiving written assurances from the requesting state that the accused will not face the death penalty under any circumstances. The state lodged an appeal against the ruling, which had not been heard by the end of the year.

On 15 December, at a ceremony to honour the memory of 134 political prisoners executed at Pretoria Central prison by the apartheid state, President Zuma reconfirmed his government's commitment to abolition of the death penalty.

Deaths in custody and extrajudicial executions

The police oversight body, the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD), reported a 7 per cent decline between April 2010 and March 2011 in recorded deaths in custody and resulting from "police action". However, KwaZulu-Natal province continued to have a high rate of such incidents, with more than one third of the recorded national total of 797 deaths.

Members of police special units, particularly Organized Crime, were implicated in incidents of suspicious deaths allegedly resulting from torture or extrajudicial executions. Victims' families faced obstacles in accessing justice because of poor official investigations, lack of legal aid funds or intimidation. In December, media exposure of information about alleged assassinations by members of the Cato Manor Organized Crime Unit led the ICD to establish an investigation team to review the evidence.

  • No charges had been brought by the end of the year against police officers responsible for the death of 15-year-old Kwazi Ndlovu in April 2010. Forensic and other evidence indicated that the boy was lying on a couch in his home when he was shot and killed with high velocity rifles by police from the Durban Organized Crime Unit.

Excessive use of force

Police used excessive force against demonstrators protesting against corruption and the failure of local authorities to provide access to adequate housing and other basic services, including in Ermelo in March and in Ficksburg in April. ICD-led investigations and pre-trial proceedings against police officers charged with murder, assault and other offences were continuing at the end of the year.

In December, police officials announced restrictions on the police use of rubber bullets against protesters due to increased reports of serious injuries.

  • In April, Andries Tatane died after he was beaten with batons and shot with rubber bullets at close range by police in Ficksburg.

Torture and other ill-treatment

In May, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) Act became law, but it was not operational by the end of the year. Under the Act, the ICD's original mandatory investigation obligations were expanded to include incidents of torture and rape by police. Police failure to report suspected incidents or obstruction of ICD/IPID investigations were made criminal offences.

In July, the National Commissioner of correctional services ordered an internal inquiry into the alleged torture of a prisoner by six prison officers using an electric shock stun device. A police investigation was also instituted, but no progress had been reported by the end of the year.

A draft law to make torture a criminal offence had not been presented in Parliament by the end of the year.

Rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people

Hate-motivated violence, in particular against lesbian women, caused increasing public concern.

  • On 24 April, 24-year-old Noxolo Nogwaza was brutally murdered in KwaThema township. An active member of the Ekurhuleni Pride Organizing Committee (EPOC), she was raped, repeatedly stabbed and beaten to death. The police responsible for the investigation into her murder had made no progress by the end of the year, and no suspects had been arrested. EPOC began a campaign to have the case transferred to another police station.

In May, the Ministry of Justice announced the establishment of a government and civil society "Task Team" to seek solutions to preventing further such incidents. The Task Team was still meeting in November, but without clear results. There was also slow progress in the development of a draft law to prosecute hate crimes.

In December, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights organization, OUT Well-Being, gave expert evidence about the impact of hate crimes on victims and the wider community during the sentencing phase of a trial in the Germiston magistrate's court. The defendants had been found guilty of assaulting a gay man and the court noted that the accused had been motivated by hatred and disrespect for gay people.

Human rights defenders

Harassment of human rights defenders and criminalization of their work continued. Those affected included journalists, staff from the Public Protector's office, anti-corruption investigators and community-based organizations promoting economic and social rights.

  • In July, 12 supporters of the housing rights movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo, were acquitted of all charges in the state's case against them. These included murder, attempted murder and assault relating to violence in the Kennedy Road informal settlement in September 2009. In its ruling the court noted "numerous contradictions and discrepancies in the state's case" and the lack of any reliable evidence to identify the accused. The court also found that police had directed some witnesses to point out members of Abahlali-linked organizations at the identification parade. At the end of the year, Abahlali supporters who were displaced after their homes were looted and destroyed in 2009 were still unable to return safely and rebuild their homes. In October, at a meeting with the Executive Mayor of the Ethekwini Metropolitan Municipality about this issue, a senior official allegedly threatened Abahlali's president, S'bu Zikode, with violence. A police investigation into his criminal complaint against the official had made no progress by the end of the year.

Freedom of expression

In November, the Protection of State Information Bill was passed by the National Assembly and referred to the upper house of Parliament for consideration. The bill was opposed by a campaign involving hundreds of civil society organizations, including media. The bill's provisions included minimum prescribed terms of imprisonment of from three to 25 years for a range of offences, including collecting or communicating or receiving classified state information or "harbouring" someone with such information. The bill did not include an explicit defence on the grounds of public interest, although a court could impose a lesser sentence if "substantial and compelling circumstances" existed. In response to the campaign, some changes were made to the bill before it was passed by the National Assembly, including making punishable the classification of state information deliberately to conceal unlawful acts by officials. Other concerns remained unaddressed.

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