South Africa

Press Release

8 December, 2021
  • South Africa downgraded from ‘narrowed’ to ‘obstructed’
  • Demonstrations rise and protesters violently dispersed
  • Concerns about LGBTQI+ rights and killings of public figures

South Africa has been downgraded from ‘narrowed’ to ‘obstructed’ in a new report by the CIVICUS Monitor, a global research collaboration that rates and tracks fundamental freedoms in 197 countries and territories. According to the report, People Power Under Attack 2021, the violent dispersal of protesters, deterioration of LGBTQI+ rights, and attacks on public figures who raise questions about accountability, led to the downgrade.

Since apartheid, South Africa has been regarded as one of Africa’s most stable and open democracies. However, the country’s new ‘obstructed’ rating means civic freedoms, including the freedoms of expression, assembly and association, are now being continuously undermined in the country. Other obstructed countries in Africa include Kenya, Sierra Leone, and Zambia.

The biggest protests in decades swept South Africa this year, and the number of demonstrations drastically increased in recent months as the economic fallout from strict COVID-19 lockdowns prompted people to protest deepening inequality and poverty.

More than 300 people died and at least 3,000 people were arrested in July when protests erupted following the arrest of former President Jacob Zuma. In the worst spate of civil unrest in years, protests widened into looting as peoples’ anger and frustration over economic hardship and entrenched poverty became evident.

Shopping malls and businesses were looted and vandalised in Gauteng province, which includes Johannesburg, and KwaZulu-Natal, Zuma’s home province. Unable to control the violence, the army had to be deployed to help the South African Police bring the situation under control.

South Africa continues to see increasing levels of police brutality and violations of human rights. Excessive police force was used to break up a student protest at Wits University in Johannesburg in March. A 35-year-old bystander, Mthokozisi Ntumba, was shot dead by police as they dispersed around one hundred protesters who had gathered to protest student funding. Stun grenades and rubber bullets were reportedly used in the altercation.

The CIVICUS Monitor is also concerned about the death of public figures who have challenged government and business accountability. In August, Malibongwe Mdazo, a recruiter for the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), and leader of the July miners’ strike, was publicly gunned down on the doorstep of the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA). NUMSA was taking five mining companies to the resolution authority over their refusal to recognise the miners’ union. No arrests have been made.

In August, Babita Deokaran, an official from the Gauteng Department of Health, was shot dead in front of her home in Winchester Hills, Johannesburg. She was a key witness to a special investigation into the multi-million rand PPE scandal at the Gauteng Health Department. The State alleges that Deokaran was killed to silence her.

The CIVICUS Monitor is also concerned by brutal attacks perpetrated against the LGBTQI+ community in South Africa this year. LGBTQI+ rights have deteriorated in South Africa, as rights campaigners and individuals live and operate in a hostile environment characterised by hate speech, death threats and killings.

In mid-April, gay man Lonwabo Jack was sexually assaulted and stabbed on his 22nd birthday. A few weeks before this attack, 34-year old Sphamandla Khoza was brutally stabbed to death in his hometown of Ntuzuma, KwaZulu-Natal, while 40-year-old Andile “Lulu” Ntuthela was butchered and dumped in a shallow grave in Uitenhage, the Eastern Cape.

This dismal picture of civic rights in South Africa is mirrored across the continent, where the vast majority of countries are severely restricting fundamental freedoms. Botswana, Mali and Mozambique have also been downgraded in People Power Under Attack 2021.

Over twenty organisations collaborate on the CIVICUS Monitor, providing evidence and research that help us target countries where civic freedoms are at risk. The Monitor has posted more than 550 civic space updates in the last year, which are analysed in People Power Under Attack 2021.

Civic freedoms in 197 countries and territories are categorised as either closed, repressed, obstructed, narrowed or open, based on a methodology that combines several sources of data on the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression.

South Africa is now rated ‘obstructed’ on the CIVICUS Monitor, this is the third worst rating a country can have. In total there are 43 countries with this rating (see all). Visit South Africa’s homepage on the CIVICUS Monitor for more information and check back regularly for the latest updates.


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