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Transforming Society

Securing Rights

Restoring Dignity

SAHRC commemorates Human Rights Day

21 March 2017

Attention Editors

In commemoration of Human Rights Day, the South African Human Rights Commission calls on everyone to reflect on what has been done, and what still needs to be done for the attainment of human rights for all in South Africa.   
Human Rights Day is commemorated annually on 21 March to honour the sacrifice of those who fell during the Sharpeville massacre on this day in 1960.

The Commission notes that while there has been progress in our constitutional democracy - founded on the principles of equality, dignity, diversity and respect for human rights - many challenges persist in the attainment of substantive human rights. 
The Commission has a constitutional mandate to promote respect for human rights and a culture of human rights, to promote the protection, development and attainment of human rights; and to monitor and assess the observance of human rights.
In simple terms, the Commission is mandated to build public consensus around human rights as a norm, to promote a commitment to the values of our Constitution, and to mobilise around human rights to effect the transformation necessary for a constitutional democracy.
Cognizant of its mandate, the Commission remains concerned that poverty and inequality continue to be exacerbated by challenges in the attainment of the right to basic services, as evidenced by ongoing backlogs in ensuring access to water and sanitation for all its citizens.  This is underscored by the fact that the top four socio-economic rights violations lodged with the Commission during the 2015/6 financial year were: access to health care services, food, sufficient water, and social security.
Race, disability, and ethnic/social origin remain the top three prohibited grounds most violated with respect to equality.  These rights violations are mirrored by escalating online hate, in the Esidimeni tragedy which revealed a shocking disregard for the rights of people with disabilities, and in the xenophobic attacks that flare up throughout the country.
South Africa continues to experience challenges in ensuring that the rights of migrants are observed and respected by all.  The Commission would like to emphasise that the rights of non-nationals, as specifically protected in the national law and in various international human rights agreements, should be observed and respected.
Much still has also to be done to ensure access to education.  Since the start of the 2017 school year, the Commission has intervened to ensure children’s rights to basic education through engaging education officials on the timely provision of textbooks, on adequate places for children in schools, and on seeking reassurance that foreign-born children are protected from xenophobia in schools.
Recognizing these challenges, the Commission encourages South Africans to reflect on the values of our Constitution and on how we can individually and collectively work towards a culture of respect for human rights.  It is our collective responsibility to give full effect to the powerful constitutional vision of dignity and equality for all in a united and democratic South Africa.
The South African Human Rights Commission invites everyone to pledge their commitment to fighting racism and unfair discrimination by taking our Anti-Racism Pledge (click here.)

Issued by the South African Human Rights Commission

Gail Smith, SAHRC Spokesperson
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Tel: 060 988 3792

Media queries: Gushwell Brooks, Communications Co-ordinator
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Tel: 082 645 8573

South African Human Rights Commission

Brief Overview


  1. National Footprint

The Commission has an office in each of the nine provinces in the country, as well as a Head Office in Johannesburg. Our provincial offices receive complaints from the public by various means, including walk-ins, telephonic, and email, as well as through grievances from communities visited by provincial office staff during human rights advocacy and outreach initiatives.  


The public can also lodge complaints via our Online Complaints Form.

  1. SAHRC Recent highlights
  1. In October 2016, the Commission received a complaint about a three-year-old child diagnosed with Tonsillar Hypertrophy, which affected his breathing and who required urgent surgery.  The hospital, relying on the incorrect application of its policy regarding treatment of foreign nationals, refused treatment.  Through concerted efforts, the Commission was able to intervene successfully.  The child had his surgery on 13 March 2017. 


  1. On 10th March 2017 the Seshego Equality Court handed down judgment in a matter brought by the South African Human Rights Commission on behalf of a transgendered learner against a former secondary school principal and the Limpopo Department of Education.   The Equality Court found that the learner’s rights to equality had been violated.


  • In September 2016 the Commission was amicus curiae in the Constitutional Court case: University of Stellenbosch Legal Aid Clinic and Others v The Minister of Justice and Correctional Services and Others CCT 127/15.  The matter was brought by a group of low income farmworkers living in Stellenbosch who had fallen into arrears, and had their salaries attached by the micro lenders.  The Constitutional Court found that judicial oversight is necessary in the granting of emoluments attachment orders (EAO).  The judgment struck a constitutionally appropriate balance between the rights of creditors to recover debts through the judicial system, and the protection of the rights of debtors.


In addition, the Commission:

  • Has received and dealt with a large number of complaints relating to the violation of the right to equality and the use of racial epithets.  These incidences of racial discrimination take place across spectrums of society including, schools, universities, businesses and the workplace.
  • Is at present litigating in 34 matters before the Equality Courts relating most often to race based discrimination.  Most of these cases involve the use of racial epithets and other derogatory comments with racial undertones such as baboon or monkey.
  • Is currently litigating the John Qwelane matter, where the Commission is looking to the courts to pronounce on the meaning to be lent to the provisions in the PEPUDA legislation around hate speech.
  • Hosted a National Hearing on Hate Speech and Social Media in February 2017.

    Complaints to the Commission are increasing.  This trend may be indicative that more people have access to the Commission, are aware of their rights, and are willing to take steps to assert their rights.  In the 2015/6 financial year the Commission’s total investigation caseload was 9238, an increase by 926 complaints.

The South African Human Rights Commission.

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About us

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.

Braampark Forum 3, 33 Hoofd Street, Braamfontein

011 877 3600 (Switchboard)

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