Annual Report: South Africa 2011

May 28, 2011

Annual Report: South Africa 2011

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Refugees and migrants

Refugees and migrants continued to suffer violations of the right to life and to physical integrity. In the first six months of the year at least 14 incidents involving violent attacks and looting of shops, particularly of Somali and Ethiopian nationals, were recorded in five provinces. Large-scale displacements of non-national communities occurred in a number of areas, including Siyathemba/Balfour, Sasolburg and Middelburg. Police protection was often slow or inadequate and victims faced difficulties in getting justice and compensation. In some areas in Gauteng Province, co-operation between senior police officers and UN agency and civil society monitors prevented violence from escalating.

In May, migrants and refugees received written and verbal threats of violence if they failed to close their businesses or leave by the end of the 2010 World Cup. In June, an Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) was established to co-ordinate the official response to incidents of violence. Despite increased security force deployment after 11 July, at least 15 attacks on property and individuals occurred in Western Cape and Gauteng provinces, including in Philippi East, Khayelitsha, Wallacedene and Kya Sands, and hundreds of people were displaced. Members of the IMC publicly denied that the incidents were xenophobic, but in September the deputy Minister for Social Development acknowledged that refugees and migrants were victims of "hate crimes".

A High Court ruling in November ordering banks to accept documentation from refugees and asylum-seekers to enable them to open bank accounts was welcomed by refugee rights organizations.

On at least two occasions, in cases brought by Lawyers for Human Rights, the courts ordered the release of Zimbabwean and Somali nationals held unlawfully in custody and at risk of forcible return. The Ministry of Home Affairs’ scheme announced in September to regularize the status of thousands of Zimbabweans living in South Africa and lift the moratorium against their deportation raised fears of future mass deportations due to the practical challenges of receiving and processing applications within the time frame. In December, the Minister stated that Zimbabweans who had entered the permit application process by 31 December would not be deported. According to official figures over 250,000 had applied by the cut-off date. Security personnel reportedly used excessive force against Zimbabweans waiting to make applications at the Cape Town Department of Home Affairs office.

Human rights defenders

  • The trial of 12 supporters of the housing rights movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo, on charges relating to violence in the Kennedy Road informal settlement in September 2009 started in November. One state witness, who repudiated her earlier statement to the police as coerced, received death threats several days after her name was published by the media. The trial was postponed until May 2011. All the accused were out on bail.
  • In January, members of a community affected by mining operations and police repression of their protests in Limpopo province applied to the High Court for judicial review of an officially approved lease granted to Anglo-Platinum mining company. The applicants sought an order declaring that the agreement was not based on informed consent and the community’s right to just and adequate compensation. The case had not been heard by the end of the year.
  • In August, members of the Hawks unlawfully arrested a Sunday Times investigative journalist, Mzilikazi wa Afrika, apparently in connection with his reporting on an alleged hit squad linked to senior members of the Mpumalanga provincial government. They seized his notebooks and held him at various locations for 24 hours before he was allowed access to his lawyer. Following an urgent court application, the Pretoria High Court ordered his immediate release. The incident occurred at a time of increased pressure from the ruling ANC and the government for stricter control of the media and freedom of expression through a proposed Media Appeals Tribunal and draconian Protection of Information law. CSOs launched a Right2Know campaign in opposition to these developments.