Date: April 3, 2024 Type: Country:

South Africa: It is time to vote for human rights

It is crucial for political parties and candidates contesting elections to commit to ensure that the human rights of all are upheld ahead of and after this year’s general election, but the electorate must also use its power to ensure this happens, Amnesty International South Africa said today. 

“Citizens need to tap into their people-power, exercise their civic responsibility and hold officials accountable in the lead-up to the 2024 general elections. The Bill of Rights guarantees your right to ‘vote in elections for any legislative body established in terms of the Constitution, and to do so in secret’.  Citizens who have registered to vote can use this right to advocate for a human rights centred government,” Amnesty International South Africa Executive Director Shenilla Mohamed said. 

“It is important for them to understand their fundamental human rights as enshrined in the Constitution as well as in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” 

Amnesty International South Africa is encouraging citizens to consider human rights when they make their mark on 29 May 2024, but it has also put together its Human Rights Manifesto focusing on 10 issues crucial for political parties and candidates to commit to, to ensure that the rights of all those who live in South Africa are upheld.

“While important progress has been made in the last 30 years, access to human rights for all remains a challenge. In recent times, the quality of service delivery has largely been weakened by corruption. 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.

To date, only one political party has signed the pledge to uphold human rights. 

While we are calling on political parties to sign the pledge, we are also calling on citizens, who are eligible and are registered to vote, to take a pledge to vote for human rights and to hold political parties and candidates accountable ahead, during and after the elections.  

“People have a right to credible information so that they can make an informed decision. This is why we are equipping voters with the knowledge and resources to become informed advocates for human rights at the polls. 

“This is a pivotal moment in South Africa. Those who are meant to be serving the people need to stop the politicking and deliver on human rights obligations and  people need to use their power to ensure that this happens,” Shenilla Mohamed said. 

South Africa continues to be one of the most unequal countries in the world, ranks first on the World Bank’s global poverty database, and struggles to realise the socio-economic rights of all who live in the country. An unemployment rate of 31.9%, combined with poverty and inequality, which were exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic and corruption, heighten the risks of social instability. 

 The release of the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture’s report highlighted how deep the rot of corruption is, which has significantly contributed to the erosion of access to human rights in the country. In addition to this, the energy crisis further continues to negatively impact the realisation of socio-economic rights, such as health, education, and access to safe, sufficient, and reliable water.

 Here are the 10 human rights issue Amnesty International South Africa has reviewed in its manifesto:

 Tackle the high levels of sexual and gender-based violence

 Despite a progressive legal landscape, rates of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) remain staggeringly high. Gendered power inequality, pervasive harmful patriarchal social norms, attitudes and beliefs, and a broken criminal justice system are contributing factors that drive and enable SGBV. According to the latest annual crime statistics covering April 2022 to March 2023, sexual offences increased by 1.5% to 53,498 reported cases and rape increased by 2.5% to 42,780 reported cases. We continue to see failures by the SA Police Service (SAPS) in ensuring quality investigations. 

 In the 2022/23 financial year:

4,169 women were murdered. This is equivalent to 11 women a day.

5,789 attempted murder of women. This is just over 15 women a day.

58,488 women were assaulted with intent to cause grievous bodily harm. This is just over 160 women a day.

 Everyone has the rights to safety, security, dignity, and bodily integrity. 

 Adopt human rights consistent climate change strategies

 Climate change is a threat to a wide range of human rights and will impact on the right to life, health, housing, water, and sanitation. It exacerbates inequalities, and its effects are disproportionately felt by those who are more vulnerable, marginalised and/or subject to discrimination, as seen during the KwaZulu-Natal floods in 2022. With Eskom being the source of roughly 42% of South Africa’s greenhouse gas emissions, the transition to clean energy sources remains imperative for South Africa’s climate response, and must be carried out in a manner that protects the rights of affected communities. 

 Everyone has the right to a healthy environment.

 Protect the right to life for all, including human rights defenders

 The right to life is a supreme right from which all other rights flow, and a right from which no derogation is allowed. Yet, impunity for this violation continues. In the 2022/2023 financial year, there were 27,494 reported murders in the country, which is 75 people murdered a day on average. The number of murders grew by 9.2% compared to the previous year. The lives of human rights defenders (HRDs) are uniquely at risk for the work that they do. The police and state have yet to provide adequate protection and ensure the threats against, and killings of, HRDs are brought to an end and those responsible are held accountable. South Africa does not have specific domestic legislation or public policy for the protection of HRDs at risk, and the authorities have not created a specific registry to keep track of the number of threats and attacks against HRDs stemming from their work. 

 Everyone has the right to life.

 Protect freedom of expression

 There are several threats to freedom of expression. These include in-person attacks on journalists by police, political parties, and the public; online hate speech, harassment, and doxing targeting journalists; the surveillance of journalists by state intelligence; overly punitive legislation that targets journalists or limits their ability to report; and the ongoing vulnerability of senior journalists at the public broadcaster. 

 Whistleblowers in South Africa are not sufficiently protected, and are either forced into hiding, killed, or find themselves having to leave the country. It is every person’s right to seek, receive and share factually correct information and ideas, without fear or unlawful interference. 

Everyone has the right to freedom of expression.

 Right to water for all

 Over 3 million people do not have access to basic water supply service in South Africa and 5.3 million households do not have access to safe and reliable drinking water. Decades of corruption and the mismanagement of public funds has weakened the Department of Water and Sanitation’s (DWS) ability to safeguard the country’s water security. This includes ensuring municipalities are investing in and maintaining infrastructure in line with a growing population and climate variability. A number of municipalities across the country are facing water issues, notably in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape. The 2023 Blue Drop report revealed that there has been a decline in access to quality and safe drinking water. Tests carried out by municipalities found that 46% achieved poor or bad microbiological water quality compliance. 

 Everyone has the right to access safe, sufficient and reliable water.

 Right to healthcare for all, including sexual and reproductive healthcare

 The right to have access to health care services, including reproductive health care is not a reality for many people living in South Africa. Taking steps towards achieving universal access to quality health care in South Africa, the government proposed and initiated the roll out of National Health Insurance. The Bill received widespread concerns that it may result in the regression in access to healthcare services. 

 In 2017, Amnesty International found that only 7% of public health facilities offered abortion services. 

 Between April 2017 and September 2021, the number of 10-14 year old girls who gave birth in public sector facilities increased by 48.7%. 

 Everyone has the right to healthcare, including sexual and reproductive health.  

 Right to quality education for all

 While progress has been made regarding access to education since the end of apartheid, significant challenges remain. The 2023 report from the 2030 Reading Panel found that 82% of Grade 4 learners are unable to read for meaning in any of the official languages. The Department of Basic Education’s 2023 Education Facilities Management report indicates that 3,932 schools still used pit toilets. While progress is being made, this is too slow, and goalposts are continuously shifted. 

 Everyone has the right to quality basic education

 End excessive use of force

 Public authorities, including the police, have a positive duty to facilitate and protect peaceful assemblies and to enable people to exercise their right to peaceful assembly. Despite this, there are many examples of public authorities abusing their power and infringing on these rights. Eleven years after the Marikana massacre, no police official has been held accountable for the deaths of 34 striking miners who were fatally shot on 16 August 2021. 

 Everyone has the right to peaceful assembly.  

 Hold mining corporations to account 

 Mining companies must develop Social and Labour Plans (SLP) in order for the government to grant mining rights. The SLP must outline measures that will be taken for the benefit of communities and workers, including their housing and living conditions, and local economic development. The failure by the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy to implement and monitor SLPs results in harmful impacts being exacerbated, not mitigated or remedied, which negatively impacts the enjoyment of human rights by communities. 

 Everyone has the right to a healthy environment, and to have your rights protected from harmful corporate activities.

 Champion human rights and international justice in foreign policy and international relations

 South Africa has an important role to play in global and regional diplomacy. It is a member of the UN Human Rights Council for 2023-2025, a member of the G20 and BRICS, and of SADC and the AU. It has an opportunity to lead efforts to protect human rights on the global and regional front. In December 2023, South Africa instituted proceedings against Israel at the International Court of Justice concerning alleged violations by Israel of its obligations under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in relation to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Yet, the country has remained neutral or ”non-aligned” on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, choosing to abstain from UN General Assembly votes on the conflict, and is considering amending national legislation to incorporate Article 98 of the Rome Statute, which would require a waiver of immunities from third party countries before the court can proceed with requests for assistance or surrender of persons charged by the International Criminal Court. South Africa should also contribute to the strengthening of the African Court on Human and People’s Rights by making a declaration allowing NGOs and individuals access to the court.


South Africa is holding its seventh election on 29 May 2024. The country is also celebrating 30 years since the end of apartheid in 1994.

Amnesty International is non-partisan and does not endorse any political party or candidate. Our aim is to inspire people to make informed decisions based on the state of human rights in South Africa, and to vote with purpose.

You will find the pledge and the political party tracker on the campaign page here

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;