Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 November 2017, 08:57 GMT

State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2012 - South Africa

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 28 June 2012
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2012 - South Africa, 28 June 2012, available at: [accessed 22 November 2017]
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.

South Africa is still grappling with its colonial legacy, particularly with regard to land and resource ownership. The government aims to redistribute a third of white-owned commercial farmland to black farmers by 2014. However, progress has been slow; in early 2011 the Minister of Rural Development announced that only 5 per cent of land had been redistributed.

The government released a Green Paper on Land Reform for public comment in 2011. The paper aims to provide a framework for discussion about land reform with different interest groups, and is underpinned by the desire to redress racial inequality in the rural economy, ensure that land is fairly distributed across class, gender and race, and to ensure greater food security. However, critics argue that the document is too vague and does not adequately address the shortcomings of the government's past efforts at land reform. For example, the document does not discuss how to secure customary land rights for farmers living in traditional leadership jurisdictions, such as in KwaZulu-Natal. The document also does not address how to protect the rights of women in new legislation. Currently, women living in rural communities that follow customary law can be particularly vulnerable to discrimination, as some patriarchal land ownership practices undermine the rights women have under the country's Constitution. The document also fails to address the concerns of San indigenous communities, specific to their way of life and communal use of land, only explicitly mentioning them as part of the larger group of African people.

In early 2011, the government released the most recent draft of the Muslim Marriages Bill for public comment. The aim of the bill is to ensure that rights of women are protected, while respecting marriage and divorce practices under Islamic law. For example, the bill makes provisions to ensure that women have avenues to seek divorce and receive adequate support and financial compensation in the event of a divorce. The Women's Legal Centre, an independent law centre based in Cape Town, has called for further additions to the bill: to set a minimum age to prevent forced child marriages; and to ensure that women are entitled to half of their husband's property in the case of divorce. The Centre has also called for access to divorce on equal grounds, as the bill in its present form still favours husbands over wives in divorce proceedings.

Some Muslim organizations have rejected the bill, arguing that involvement of civil courts and non-Muslim arbitrators goes against Islamic principles. The four-year public discussion period was meant to end on 31 May 2011, but the heated debates around the contents of the bill have made its future uncertain once more.

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