The South African government must give full attention to delivering fundamental human rights to the citizens of the country and put this above grandstanding. A day before President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered his State of the Nation Address, Amnesty International South Africa suggested critical issues affecting the country. As is now known, the president fell short. Amnesty International had called on Ramaphosa to address Gender-based violence and femicide, water, healthcare, and education. Instead, he focussed more on load shedding.

By Mienke Steytler

President Cyril Ramaphosa continues to fail the nation in the delivery of basic human rights, said Amnesty International South Africa last Wednesday (8 February). “The government’s mandate is to deliver services to every person living in South Africa and to promote, protect and fulfil basic human rights. President Ramaphosa is not fulfilling his duty as the leader of our country to uphold the fundamental human rights of every person living here. The buck stops with him, and the State of the Nation Address (SONA) cannot be another tick box exercise, concrete action is vital,” said Shenilla Mohamed, Executive Director of Amnesty International South Africa. “Access to basic human rights remains a challenge for people in South Africa. Now, multiple failures by the government, including load shedding, are exacerbating the suffering. Further delays cannot be tolerated, and President Ramaphosa must use SONA to outline how his administration plans to urgently deliver on the rights enshrined in our Constitution. The country is asking questions and will be listening for answers. We will no longer tolerate lip service.”

Gender-based violence and femicide

The latest quarterly crime statistics released by the South African Police Service showed an increase in all categories of sexual offences compared to the same period last year – this tells us not enough is being done to tackle the scourge of GBVF. “Year after year, people take to the streets to demand justice, and year after year President Ramaphosa promises to tackle it but South Africa is still not a safe place for anyone, particularly women and children. What happened to the additional resources, budget and personnel President Ramaphosa committed to deploying in 2019?” asked Mohamed.
“Furthermore, the DNA backlog is one of the biggest contributing factors on why the prosecution of thousands of cases has been delayed. This delays justice for victims and survivors. Police minister Bheki Cele publicly committed to clearing the backlog by the end of January 2023. That date has now passed, and the silence is deafening. “We don’t want announcements of additional plans of action. We have enough of those. What we need now is a clear indication of how these plans will be implemented and accountability across the board from President Ramaphosa’s chosen cabinet.”
This SONA, President Ramaphosa must address the high levels of GBVF and do so once and for all. Enough of the empty promises. Concrete action is required, immediately. How many more women and girls need to suffer from GBVF before the government shows us it takes women and girls’ right to safety seriously,” said Mohamed.


Escalating load shedding is placing increased pressure on an ageing and under-maintained water system, threatening the right of millions of people in South Africa to access safe, sufficient, and reliable water. In areas like Phoenix in KwaZulu-Natal and parts of Tshwane, it’s been reported that people have to go for days without water, partly because of load shedding. “The lack of urgency is concerning. Even before load shedding worsened, millions of people in South Africa did not have access to safe, sufficient, and reliable water. As infrastructure is further damaged and strained by the ongoing energy crisis, we could see access to water further decline,” said Mohamed.


The energy crisis is adding increased pressure on an already stretched healthcare system, negatively impacting access to quality care and putting the lives of patients at risk. “This is a life and death issue. Even this week, healthcare facilities reported being without power and water. Though some hospitals have been spared from load shedding, Amnesty International South Africa calls on President Ramaphosa to use SONA to exempt all healthcare facilities that rely on Eskom from load shedding. This will protect patients and healthcare workers, though the deeper systemic challenges of South Africa’s healthcare system remain, and can also not be ignored,” said Mohamed.


In 2020 and 2021, Amnesty International South Africa released two reports on the state of basic education in South Africa. The reports titled South Africa: Failing to learn the lessons? The impact of Covid-19 on a broken and unequal education system and Broken and Unequal: The state of education in South Africa both highlighted stark inequalities in the education system. President Ramaphosa must use SONA to update the nation on progress from the Accelerated Schools and Infrastructure Delivery Initiative and the Sanitation Appropriate for Education Project, intended to eradicate inadequate, unsafe, and poor infrastructure at schools. This includes outlining whether the Department of Basic Education’s (DBE) commitment to eradicate pit toilets from all schools by the end of February 2023 will be realised.
“The DBE has been repeatedly moving the deadline when it comes to eradicating pit toilets and ensuring all schools have proper and safe sanitation facilities, and in doing so continues to fail learners. Even more disturbing, the department is trying to move further away from accountability by proposing new amendments to the regulation relating to the minimum norms and standards for public school infrastructure. The proposed amendments put forward last year seek to remove deadlines that have been set to fix school infrastructure,” Mohamed said.
“These illegal pit toilets are not only violating the right to sanitation, which is enshrined in the Constitution, but also the right to health, education, dignity, privacy whilst in some cases posing a serious risk to the right to life.”
Increased load shedding is also making the situation worse with learners studying in the dark, falling behind, and arriving late to school due to traffic delays caused by power cuts. Some schools have been forced to close because the lack of water has led to hygiene and health risks.
“Load shedding risks widening the gap of access to quality basic education, placing further pressure on an already broken and unequal system. President Ramaphosa’s SONA must tackle this head-on. This is about the future of South Africa’s youth and, arguably, of South Africa itself.”

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