By: Adebimpe Ofusori
Human rights is a term that is not taken to be of great importance before but has come to acquire a much more significant meaning in recent years in South Africa. The word rights overlaps with the concept of citizenship, constitutionalism, natural rights, civil rights, minority rights and the rule of law. South Africans are counting 29 years of democracy since the end of the apartheid regime in 1994. This transition marked a significant milestone for human rights in South Africa, as it ended decades of systemic racism and oppression of the black majority by the white minority government. The constitution of South Africa was projected to help in the establishment of a post-apartheid society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights. It was designed not only to defend natural rights and restrict the powers of the state over the individual, but also to build an open, democratic society, holding the government to account where necessary. The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), is a body designed to support constitutional democracy through promoting, protecting, monitoring and attainment of human rights in South Africa without fear, partiality and favouritism. They are mandated by the South African Constitution to address all matters relating to human Rights, monitor, address complaints about human rights and seek justice for those denied of their rights. Despite these protections, South Africa continues to face significant challenges in the area of human rights. Issues such as poverty, inequality, gender-based violence, and discrimination against marginalized communities remain pressing concerns. Additionally, the country continues to grapple with the legacy of apartheid, including ongoing racial tensions and disparities. Overall, South Africans are counting both the progress that has been made towards realizing human rights in the country, as well as the challenges that remain to be addressed in the years to come.
When South Africa was under apartheid rule, the legal system approved racist segregation. The black majority were deprived of their rights. For example, they were not allowed to vote and are denied citizenship. But after, apartheid, the condition improved. Section 9 of the Constitution declares, “every person has the rights not to be discriminated against, directly or indirectly, on the basis of race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture and language”. However, poverty, unemployment, crime, Corruption in health and education sectors has compromised the quality and access of South Africans to these rights. Some of the human rights in South Africa are: right to gender-based violence, right to education, right to health, rights to water and sanitation, refugees and migrant’s rights, sexual and reproductive rights, excessive use of force right, right to life and security of the person to mention but a few. The 1998 Human Rights report by Myles Nadioo noted that the government generally respected the rights of the citizens; however, there were concerns over the use of force by law enforcement, legal proceedings and discrimination.
On 17th September 2020, Human Rights Watch published a 64 pages report on xenophobic violence in South Africa. The report also contained video footage and witness testimony. Despite the effort of the government to combat xenophobia in South Africa, African and Asian foreigners in the country still suffer routine harassment and abuse. According to the country reports on human rights practices in South Africa, there has been significant human rights issues which include: unlawful or arbitrary killings, cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment by the government, harsh and life-threatening prison conditions, arbitrary arrest or detention; serious government corruption, human trafficking and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons. Although, there has been investigations, prosecution, and punishment of some officials who committed human rights abuses or were accused of corruption by the government. The most violated human rights in South Africa are: equality, unfair labour practices, lack of access to health care, water, food, and social security and violations of rights in relations to arrest and detention. In 2012, Gauteng, Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal provinces received the highest number of complaints of all the nine provinces. Between 2015-2016, the Commission received a total of 9238 complaints with Gauteng recording the highest number of complaints (1110), followed by the Western Cape (670) and KwaZulu-Natal (581). But in 2016, there was an increase in the number of complaints in the North West provincial office.
Some of the key human rights issues that South Africans have been counting progress on include:
As South Africans continue to count the years since the end of apartheid, they are also working to build a more just, equal, and democratic society that fully respects and protects the human rights of all people. While significant progress has been made in some of these areas, there is still much work to be done to fully realize human rights for all South Africans.
Dr. Adebimpe Ofusori is a researcher. She writes in her personal capacity