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Transforming Society

Securing Rights

Restoring Dignity

Media Statement: South African Human Rights Commission in receipt of race classification complaint


Monday, 19 October 2020

Attention: Editors and Reporters

The South African Human Rights Commission (the SAHRC or the Commission) is in receipt of a complaint regarding a teacher’s self-classification as “African” after his race had already been officially recorded as “Coloured”. The Commission is in the process of assessing the complaint in terms of its Complaints Handling Procedures and will further seek to establish whether the official use of apartheid-era racial categories leads to human rights violations. In assessing the complaint, the Commission will also consider that the charges brought against the teacher by the Western Cape Education Department, have since been withdrawn.
The South African government uses a system of racial self-classification for purposes of gathering data for the national census. However, at the same time, government uses apartheid-era racial categorisations to pursue and measure redress of unfair discrimination, through special measures aimed at achieving greater substantive equality. Special measures include, for example, employment equity and Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment schemes. The Commission acknowledges that special measures are necessary in various contexts to redress both past and new forms of unfair discrimination based on race, ethnicity and other prohibited grounds of discrimination. Special measures are required in various socio-economic spheres, including education, housing and land redistribution, in order to achieve social justice. However, special measures should be flexible enough to cater for evolving societal nuances as South Africa pursues the transformative constitutional objectives of equality, human dignity and freedom.

A delicate balance therefore falls to be struck between the need to promote human dignity by recognising the importance of self-identifying, while simultaneously developing and implementing special measures holistically to achieve substantive equality.
The Commission notes the interest of the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services in this matter and will keep the Portfolio Committee informed as it proceeds to assess the complaint and, further, inquire into the official use of race categorisations in South Africa more broadly.

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Issued by the South African Human Rights Commission
Gushwell Brooks – Communications Co-ordinator Tel: 082 645 8573 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The South African Human Rights Commission.

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The Human Rights Commission is the national institution established to support constitutional democracy. It is committed to promote respect for, observance of and protection of human rights for everyone without fear or favour.

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