Annual Report: South Africa 2011

May 28, 2011

Annual Report: South Africa 2011

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The report of a parliamentary committee, tabled in Parliament in February, recommended substantial changes to the Domestic Violence Act (DVA) and in policies and practices used by police, justice and social support agencies. The recommendations followed wide-ranging hearings with CSOs on failures in implementation which left many victims without access to effective remedies. The ICD reported to Parliament in November that only a quarter of the 522 police stations they inspected in the previous year were fully compliant with their obligations under the DVA. Police lack of understanding of the requirements of the law, a reluctance to discipline members who did not implement the law and failure to arrest violent abusers were the main problems reported by the ICD.

Abductions and forced marriages of girls apparently increased, particularly in rural areas of Eastern Cape Province, linked to a traditional practice, ukuthwala.

  • In August a magistrate’s court in Willowvale, Eastern Cape, dismissed the claim of a husband for the return of his 17-year-old wife or the recovery of the lobola (bride price). The young woman, who was defended by the Women’s Legal Centre, was 14 years old when she underwent a customary marriage.

In response to large-scale virginity testing events, some financially supported by state-funded traditional leaders in KwaZulu-Natal Province, the Commission on Gender Equality and some CSOs condemned virginity testing as violations of the right to equality, dignity, privacy and the rights of the child.

In March, the Equality Court in Johannesburg ruled, in a case brought by the NGO Sonke Gender Justice, that the African National Congress (ANC) Youth League president, Julius Malema, had infringed women’s right to dignity and that his comments at a public meeting about women who reported rape amounted to hate speech. He was ordered to issue a public apology and to pay a contribution to an organization assisting survivors of gender-based violence, but he did not do so. In October, he applied for leave to appeal the ruling.

Draft anti-trafficking legislation was introduced in Parliament but had not been passed by the end of the year.

Rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people

Serious incidents of violence against lesbian women or women believed to be lesbian, targeted for their sexuality, continued to be reported. It was not clear at the end of the year if proposed draft legislation to criminalize hate crimes included victims targeted on grounds of sexual orientation, which CSOs had recommended. In December, South Africa supported an amendment to restore a reference to sexual orientation in a UN resolution calling on states to investigate discrimination-related killings.

Right to health - people living with HIV/AIDS

An estimated 5.7 million people were living with HIV, according to UNAIDS. By the end of the year the number of AIDS patients receiving antiretroviral treatment (ART) had increased to over 971,500, according to the World Health Organization. More than a third were in KwaZulu-Natal, the province worst affected by the epidemic and with the highest infection rates among pregnant women. The government agreed to new treatment guidelines in March which increased earlier access to ART for pregnant women and people co-infected with HIV and tuberculosis. Access to treatment also improved in a number of provinces when the Department of Health, in partnership with NGOs and donors, strengthened the capacity of clinics outside hospitals to provide comprehensive treatment and care. However, poverty, inadequate daily food, unreliable and costly transport systems and the shortage of health care workers in rural areas remained major barriers to access.

In March, the government launched a drive to scale-up voluntary HIV testing and, in KwaZulu-Natal, it promoted medical male circumcision to reduce HIV infection rates. Both programmes were criticized for over-focusing on numerical targets. In some cases, informed consent and adequate counselling were absent. The South African National AIDS Council was accused of lack of leadership in monitoring the implementation of the national strategic plan on HIV and AIDS.