News / Africa

HRW: 2012 Mars South African Human Rights Record

Members of the judicial commission of inquiry into shootings at Lonmin's Marikana mine, near Rustenburg, South Africa, Oct. 1, 2012.
Members of the judicial commission of inquiry into shootings at Lonmin's Marikana mine, near Rustenburg, South Africa, Oct. 1, 2012.
Anita Powell
With one of the world's most liberal constitutions and a boisterous media sector, South Africa has long been the African continent's model for human rights.
 
But global watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) says events in 2012 have set the nation back significantly. Citing police shootings of striking miners and legislative proposals to significantly restrict press freedoms, the U.S.-based group says South Africa needs to refocus on maintaining freedoms it fought hard to gain in the wake of apartheid.
 
For many South Africans, the so-called Marikana massacre of August 16 was a scene straight out of that era: police shooting wildly into a crowd of angry black striking mine workers, killing 34.
 
Described by one major news outlet as "the single most lethal use of force by South African security forces against civilians since 1960," the Marikana wildcat strike against platinum-mining giant Lonmin drew allegations of police brutality and laid bare dire conditions that many black workers face nearly 20 years after the end of apartheid.
 
Speaking from Johannesburg, where the group issued Global Report 2013 – a 665-page, ranked assessment of human rights issues in more than 80 countries – HRW's South Africa director Cameron Jacobs described the tragedy as emblematic of the country's most troubled post-apartheid year.
 
“The year 2012 in South Africa most probably represented one of its most challenging years," he said. "I think when one has to look at the number of issues in 2012, there have been certain threats around freedom of expression, challenges in respect to the rule of law and ... the right to equality, which is one of the cornerstones of our democracy.”
 
While police say they fired on the workers in self-defense, a government-commissioned investigation is ongoing, and Lonmin announced last week that it would implement a long-term plan that it says will significantly improve workers’ conditions, including better housing, flexible working hours, and leave policies that will allow workers to visit their families in the countryside.

Regarding legislative affairs, HRW joined local and international media houses in vocally opposing the Protection of State Information Bill, which is slated for approval this year, saying it would limit access to information and restrict press freedom. HRW also notes opposition to the pending Traditional Courts Bill, which would set up a separate legal system for 17 million South Africans living in rural areas. The bill predominantly affects poor blacks, and critics say the bill is also unconstitutional, unfair to women and a reprise of hateful apartheid laws.

Kayum Ahmed, CEO of the South African Human Rights Commission, who also says the Marikana shooting stands out as the most significant event of the year, says many of South Africa’s human rights problems go down to the most basic level.
 
“The constitution provides one of the most progressive constitutions in the world, which provides for access to basic services, including water," he said.  "And what we have discovered is that the situation in South Africa is fairly dire, in the sense that there are several municipalities that simply fail to provide access to water and sanitation in those respective provinces.”
 
But, Ahmed says, South Africa is a nation that has distinguished itself for its optimism despite its dark history.
 
“I think it would be difficult to say that 2012 has been the worst year for us as a country with respect to human rights," he said. "I think it’s certainly been a terrible year, but I do also see instances of hope and of optimism with respect to dealing with some of the challenges that we face in the country.”
 
He says his agency is engaging with the South African government to address the human rights challenges – and cited one notable success: providing nearly universal education.
 
Human Rights Watch acknowledged that the government has made some positive moves, such as strengthening farmworkers’ rights and being the continent’s leader in protecting the rights of gays and lesbians.

You May Like

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

Alaskans experiencing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more frequent and extensive wildfires, deteriorating glaciers, and swift shoreline erosion More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs