President Cyril Ramaphosa, during his state of the nation address this week, must show the country that he takes accountability seriously and provide concrete actions to be taken against those who failed to protect human lives during the 2021 July unrest, Amnesty International South Africa said.
President Ramaphosa this week committed to outlining the first actions the government will take in response to the findings and recommendations of the expert panel report on the chaos and violence which erupted last year.
The panel was asked to determine whether the response by the security services was timeous, appropriate and sufficient. It found that in respect of the police and intelligence services it was not. However, the panel also said the Executive carried some of the blame too and must take responsibility for its lapse of leadership.
In the immediate aftermath of the violence that claimed the lives of over 300 people, Amnesty International South Africa said that the government’s admission that it was poorly prepared to deal with the riots called for the need to hold to account high-level public officials who apparently failed to discharge their responsibility in the security cluster to protect people and private property from the riots. Seven months later, we have still not seen this accountability, except for a shifting around of Cabinet ministers.
“The weeklong spree of violence and destruction in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng violated human rights, particularly the rights to life, health, food and freedom of movement. But it also exposed South Africa’s glaring security failures. The state was unable to protect the people as it is constitutionally mandated to do, nor protect their human rights. This has been confirmed by the report,” Amnesty International South Africa Executive Director Shenilla Mohamed said.
“Ultimate accountability lies with President Ramaphosa and his security cluster ministers, who are tasked with keeping the country safe — and everyone who lives in it. Without any real action on the report, the culture of impunity and lack of accountability will continue to have a negative impact on every level of society, and if not addressed we will continue to see more attacks like the July unrest which threatens our freedom and ultimately access to human rights for all,” Shenilla Mohamed added.
This is not the only issue that the government has failed on in terms of accountability and providing concrete solutions. Areas that were already buckling under poor service delivery and human rights violations such as quality education, gender-based violence, access to water and sanitation and corruption continue to worsen.
The second part of the state capture report was handed over to the President this month by commission chair Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo. Amnesty International South Africa reiterates its calls on President Ramaphosa not to ignore the important recommendations in the reports and ensure that they are implemented so that those responsible for corruption are held accountable.
“Corruption undermines democracy and the rule of law which infringes on basic human rights. In South Africa, access to basic services is largely crippled by the mismanagement of public funds and a lack of prioritisation by the government,” Shenilla Mohamed said.
In 2020 and 2021 Amnesty International South Africa released two reports on the state of basic education in South Africa. The reports titled South Africa: Failing to learn the lessons? The impact of COVID-19 on a broken and unequal education system and Broken and Unequal: The state of education in South Africa both highlighted stark inequalities in the education system, exposing how the infrastructure of many schools that serve poorer communities do not meet the government’s own “Minimum Norms and Standards” for educational facilities.
There are still thousands of schools in South Africa using pit toilets, but the Department of Basic Education keeps moving the goalposts when it comes to commitments to eradicating these inadequate ablution facilities.
“Despite the serious and continuing failure to meet its own binding regulations and associated targets and deadlines, as well as its international human rights obligations, the government has actually been cutting spending on infrastructure,” Shenilla Mohamed said.
“The government must eradicate all pit toilets in schools and ensure that all learners have access to safe and hygienic water and sanitation facilities.
President Ramaphosa needs to give concrete deadlines and plans on how the government plans to eradicate these unsafe toilets. It is critical for the state to devise and implement a plan that takes into consideration the existing state of school infrastructure and resources.”
Unfortunately South Africa continues to display some of the most pervasive and extreme levels of GBV. It pervades political, economic and social structures of society, cuts across all divides and impacts all aspects of life.
The most recent crime stats show that not enough is being done to combat this crime. The total number of reported cases of sexual offences, rape, assault and domestic abuse continue to rise.
“It is unacceptable that these numbers continue to rise. The criminal justice system is failing victims and survivors of GBV.”
President Ramaphosa needs to tell us how the government is dealing with the failing criminal justice system when it comes to these crimes, and how it is fixing the DNA backlog which is delaying justice for victims and survivors.
Almost 20 million people still do not have access to safe, sufficient, reliable water, and 14 million people do not have basic sanitation.
In recent times, the quality of service delivery has largely been weakened by corruption and mismanagement of public funds. This, at the expense of people living in the country who are constitutionally entitled to have their basic needs met and to live with dignity, Shenilla Mohamed said.
Government needs to ensure that all municipalities fulfill their constitutional mandate to provide basic services to everyone in South Africa. The Auditor-General’s report found that only 27 out of 257 municipalities received a clean audit outcome.
“There needs to be transparency, accountability and access to information. The lack of access to services such as safe water, sanitation and adequate housing is a violation of fundamental human rights. Service delivery is a right and not a privilege,” Shenilla Mohamed said.
“Politicians must stop making empty political promises and deliver the basic services to everyone living in South Africa.”
Amnesty International has noted reports that President Ramaphosa may announce in his state of the nation address that jobs in some sectors of the economy will soon be reserved for SA citizens, in a bid to reverse high unemployment and increasing inequality.
Amnesty International has cautioned against high-ranking public officials and political leaders blaming the country’s high unemployment problem and poor economic status on foreign nationals, refugees and asylum seekers, as this has the potential to fuel xenophobia in the country.
The ongoing and escalating attacks against refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, and the looting of foreign owned shops in South Africa, is also a direct consequence of years of impunity and failures in the criminal justice system that have left this vulnerable group exposed and unprotected.
“The President needs to explain his plans to protect the rights of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, and not put them in danger with political rhetoric which feeds into the belief that foreign nationals are taking jobs away from locals,” Shenilla Mohamed said.
It is easy to blame foreign nationals, refugees and asylum seekers for the country’s high unemployment problems, but foreign nationals should not be used as scapegoats for the government’s failure to address the unemployment crisis. The fact of the matter is that an economy like South Africa cannot rely on local skills alone to grow and create jobs. Evidence shows that some of the biggest and industrialised economies around the world have grown because they have absorbed the foreigner workforce and skills. The government must take responsibility for its shortcomings and provide concrete, realistic actions in which it plans to remedy these.
President Cyril Ramaphosa will deliver his 2022 State of the Nation Address in Cape Town on 10 February.
For more information or to request an interview, please contact:
Genevieve Quintal, Media and Communications Officer, Amnesty International South Africa: +27 (0)64 890 9224; firstname.lastname@example.org
Amnesty International South Africa office, 97 Oxford Road, Saxonwold, Johannesburg, 2196