Democracy and rights
South Africa's former apartheid regime has
been replaced by democratic institutions, a vibrant
civil society and free media. But challenges remain, not
least when it comes to corruption.
South Africa is a functioning multi-party democracy.
Although the same party has been in power since 1994,
the opposition has good opportunities to make its voice
heard. International election observers classified the
recent elections as free and well-conducted.
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The Constitution guarantees the equal rights of all
citizens regardless of race, gender and sexual
orientation. But in practice, the legacy of apartheid is
still breaking through and differences in terms and
conditions can be very large depending on whether you
are black, colored or white South African. Immigrant
groups from other African countries find it particularly
difficult and in recent times several immigrants have
died in planned attacks.
The proportion of women in Parliament is high
internationally, almost 51 percent in 2017. South Africa
is the world's 19th most equated country to live in,
according to the World Economic Forum's ranking of 149
countries in 2018. Yet the situation for women, in
particular colored and black, is often worse than for
men in similar groups. Unemployment is higher among
women and gender-based violence is common.
Civil society is vibrant and leaves a clear
impression in the debate. According to the constitution,
freedom of assembly and association exists, but there
are reports that the police have used violence to
dissolve peaceful demonstrations.
The Constitution guarantees freedom of religion and
it is generally well complied with (see Religion).
Freedom of expression and media
Freedom of the press was cut during the apartheid
years but is guaranteed today in the constitution. South
Africa has a lively press and a number of privately
owned newspapers that conduct critical investigative
The ANC government has periodically found it
difficult to accept the press's scrutiny. According to
Reporters Without Borders, it appears that journalists
are being intercepted by the security service, as are
journalists reporting on corruption within the ANC.
Hatred and threats to journalists have been expressed by
leading opposition politicians. Reporters Without
Borders places 2019 South Africa in position 31 in its
index of freedom of the press in 180 countries. It is a
push upwards with 21 seats up since 2013.
44 percent of the country's residents believe that
corruption is widespread in society. In 2019,
Transparency International placed the country at 70 in
an index of perceived corruption in 180 countries (see
the ranking list here). With African dimensions
measured, it is a good location. South Africa is in the
group of 15 countries that receive the best rating (out
of almost 50 across Africa).
The corruption suspicions against the country's
former president Jacob Zuma have gained wide media
coverage. In 2018, the State Prosecutor decided to bring
charges for crimes committed in connection with a large
arms deal in the 1990s involving 28 Swedish JAS plans
(see Current Policy.) An investigation is also ongoing
about allegations that Zuma systematically plundered the
Treasury during his time as president money.
ANC's new party leader Cyril Ramaphosa made the
choice to take action against corruption and has among
other things set up a commission with powers to find and
restore government assets that have disappeared through
corruption (see Calendar).
Judicial system and legal security
The independence of the judiciary is protected in the
Constitution and generally enforced well. In recent
years, however, an increased number of political
appointments and provisions have taken place within the
national prosecutor's office and other important
supervisory bodies. President Cyril Ramaphosa has
expressed a desire to break this pattern and has among
other things appointed a well-respected lawyer with the
task of independently professionalizing the prosecutor's
Most parts of the legal chain suffer from congestion,
tedious bureaucratic routines, a shortage of qualified
staff and corruption. In combination with very high
crime, this sometimes results in suspects not being
prosecuted within a reasonable time or on substandard
Hundreds of police officers have been convicted of
corruption and in the years 2011 to 2014, 1,600 police
officers were dismissed after committing crimes. Every
year, many deaths occur in police interventions and in
the detention center, where torture has also occurred,
according to reports.
The World Justice Project ranks South Africa 47th in
its index of the rule of law in 126 countries in 2019.
The country's prisons are overcrowded and do not live
up to international standards. Torture is prohibited and
the death penalty was abolished in 1997.