Annual Report: South Africa 2011

May 28, 2011

Annual Report: South Africa 2011

View More Research

Head of state and government: Jacob G. Zuma
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes
Population: 50.5 million
Life expectancy: 52 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f): 79/64 per 1,000
Adult literacy: 89 per cent

Incidents of torture and extrajudicial executions by police were reported. High levels of violence against women and girls continued, and there were indications of an increase in harmful practices affecting their rights. Serious incidents of violence against lesbian women, targeted for their sexuality, continued to be reported. There were some improvements in access to health services for people living with HIV, but poverty remained an important barrier especially in rural areas. Refugees and migrants continued to suffer discrimination and displacement in large-scale incidents of violence. There were further threats to the work of human rights defenders.


Political tensions continued over the direction of economic policy and appropriate solutions to poverty, inequality and unemployment, with prolonged public sector workers’ strikes and numerous protests in poor urban communities. In April, President Zuma appointed a 20-member National Planning Commission, chaired by the former Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, to produce a national development plan and longer-term vision for the country. The high levels of poverty and income inequality, with persistent racial and gender disparities, were acknowledged in the Millennium Development Goals country report in September. In October, trade unions and civil society organizations (CSOs) launched a campaign for economic policies promoting social justice and protection of socio-economic rights.

Torture and other ill-treatment

Incidents of torture and other ill-treatment by police of detained crime suspects were reported. Corroborated methods included severe beatings, electric shocks and suffocation torture while the person was shackled or hooded, and death threats. The police oversight body, the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD), reported that from April 2009 to March 2010 it had received five direct complaints of torture and 920 complaints of assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, some of which were being investigated for evidence of torture. Seven of the 294 deaths in custody were linked to torture and 90 others to "injuries sustained in custody". The ICD also investigated 24 complaints of rape by police officers.

A draft law establishing the ICD on an independent statutory basis, separate from police legislation, was still being considered by Parliament at the end of the year. In parliamentary hearings in August, CSOs called for the inclusion of explicit obligations to investigate complaints of torture and rape in custody and for mandatory reporting by police with knowledge of these offences. Their recommendations were included in a revised bill.

Despite continuing efforts by the South African Human Rights Commission and CSOs, South Africa did not ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture. A new version of the draft law to make torture a criminal offence was circulated for comment, but had not been presented in Parliament before the end of the year.