The Rights of Vulnerable and Marginalized Groups in South Africa

The Centre for Conflict Resolution (CCR), Cape Town, South Africa, and the Johannesburg-based Foundation for Human Rights (FHR) hosted three public dialogues in Cape Town, on 23 April 2018 on “Ending Violence Against Women in South Africa: Disruption and Innovation”; on 22 May 2018 on “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex (LGBTI) Rights in South Africa: Equality and Inclusion on Paper Versus Practice”; and on 26 June 2018 on “Tackling Xenophobia in South Africa: The Search for Solutions”. In 1996, South Africa adopted what is believed to be “one of the world’s most progressive constitutions”. The Bill of Rights – Chapter 2 of the Constitution – provides for the protection of the civil, political, and socio-economic rights of all people in South Africa, including the rights to human dignity, equality, non racialism, and non-sexism, as well as the supremacy of the Constitution. Despite this constitutional protection, the rights of vulnerable and marginalised groups in South Africa are still far from being realised, and the structural violation of their rights persists. Women and girls suffer multiple forms of violence perpetrated by men in South Africa, where the prevalence of rape and sexual assault is one of the highest in the world. According to the 2016 South Africa Demographic and Health Survey, 21% of partnered women (one in five) over the age of 18 have experienced physical violence perpetrated by a partner. Furthermore, violence against women is under-reported, amid a culture of apparent immunity. Similarly, LGBTI and gender non-conforming people continue to face severe discrimination, hate and violence. There has been a pandemic of “corrective rape” violations against lesbian women, in particular, and violence against transgender individuals. Migrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers from other African countries inhabiting South Africa also suffer discrimination and physical violence. Migration to South Africa from other parts of the continent occurs for various reasons, such as the pursuit of economic prospects, the fear of persecution in home countries, and the need to escape from war zones. The South African economy has benefitted from the scarce skills of, and economic activity generated by, migrants. Yet foreign nationals are often blamed for social problems such as crime and unemployment. Since 2008 over 400 immigrants, refugees, asylum-seekers, and those viewed as “others” have been killed in xenophobic attacks, and more than 100,000 people have been displaced. This points to the inability of both government and civil society to deal decisively with xenophobia and to address its root causes.