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Media Statement: The South African Human Rights Commission reflects on the year since the July 2021 unrest

08 July 2022
Attention: Editors and Reporters

From 8 to 17 July 2021, South Africa experienced unprecedented violent unrest in parts of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces. The unrest was characterized by looting, destruction of property and the disruption of economic activity. The inadequate response due to ill preparedness by the security apparatus of the country was laid bare for all to witness. The result was an estimated 354 deaths, over R50 billion lost to the economy and many having suffered loss of property and livelihoods.

In response to the unrest, various organs of state and the country at large demonstrated incredible solidarity and commitment to address the causes of the unrest, provide support to affected communities and ensure that the country never experiences such unrest again.
In the immediate aftermath of the unrest, the SAHRC hosted an Imbizo on 23 July 2021 as part of its efforts to understand and respond to the unrest and the subsequent human rights violations arising from it. The report emanating from the Imbizo is available on the Commissions website at the following link: https://www.sahrc.org.za/home/21/files/Imbizo%20-%20Report%202021.pdf.

Furthermore, the Commission had, through its ongoing presence in the two affected provinces, made community interventions and had undertaken fact finding visits to various affected communities. Some of these interventions are ongoing and a work in progress.
The SAHRC additionally received various complaints arising from the unrest. The SAHRC resolved to launch a National Investigative Hearing to address some of the concerns emerging from the Imbizo, the complaints it received and the monitoring efforts that it conducted in the affected areas. The Hearing has concluded the stage of oral and in person hearings and is now at the consolidation phase. The report emanating from the Hearing will be made public in due course.

The Commission has since also resolved to take a proactive approach toward strengthening diversity and solidarity and to do more in promoting a culture of respect for human rights in the country.  In this respect, the Commission has resolved to undertake the Social Harmony National Effort (SHiNE). This national effort is aimed at increasing social harmony in the country by promoting more solidarity and individual responsibility in addressing social ills that contribute to the culture of violence and ongoing social tension and upheaval within our homes and in our communities alike. The Commission has undertaken numerous consultations with various stakeholders in developing the concept for the Social Harmony National Effort. What is clear from these consultations is that all of us must be involved in changing the trajectory of our progress toward a caring and harmonious society, which is a pre-condition for our collective success. The details of the SHiNE will be made public in September 2022 and the SHiNE itself is set for implementation in 2023.

The Commission has noted that the law enforcement authorities have in the aftermath of the unrest effected several arrests of persons who were alleged to have committed crimes during the unrest and those found guilty have been sentenced. The Commission welcomes these developments and trusts that no person who perpetrated crimes during and in the days preceding the unrest, should be left untouched by the long arm of the law.
Additionally, the appointment of an Expert Panel by the President of the Republic, Mr Cyril Ramaphosa on the 5th of August 2021, to review South Africa’s response to the unrest, is a welcomed development. The recommendations of the Panel were accepted by the Executive Authority. The Commission will monitor the implementation of those recommendations, alongside Parliament. It is pertinent that the significant shortcomings in the governance and administration of the security cluster, as identified by the Expert Panel, continue to be addressed by government to strengthen the States capability in respect to a range of security threats. We note that it is primarily the duty of government to ensure that all who live in South Africa enjoy the right to safety and security.

More recently, in April 2022 torrential rains and storms affected parts of the KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape and North-West provinces. The KwaZulu Natal Province was the worst affected province with the record-breaking rains causing significant flooding in various districts of the province. The floods washed away infrastructure, land, houses and livelihoods.

Sadly, reports indicate that in KwaZulu Natal about 435 people lost their lives of whom, 80 are to date still reported missing. A total of 19,113 households with 128,743 people have been affected by the disaster. In the immediate aftermath of the floods, which have since been classified as a national disaster, the Commission has conducted a series of monitoring interventions to assess the human rights impacts of the floods. The Commission has engaged and continues to engage with the provincial governments of the acutely affected provinces to monitor their responses to the floods and ensure that the recovery efforts are human rights based in approach.

As the Commission reflects on the devastating and traumatic events that took place last year in the provinces of KZN and Gauteng, it remains pertinent that what occurred is never repeated. In this regard, we underscore the need for all in South Africa to ensure this outcome. Accordingly, we hope that our efforts will join with the work of many whose sense of social responsibility has been aroused since the events last year. It is hoped that the efforts of all will ultimately result in a safer, transformed and more equal society where all people can live in harmony and dignity. Amid a challenging economic climate, it remains pertinent that the basic rights of persons be at the centre of policy and practise in all spheres. Indeed, our collective commitment to the vision of a caring society as specified in the Bill of Rights, is central to the attainment of economic and social success in the country.

Issued by the South African Human Rights Commission
Wisani Baloyi – Acting Communications Coordinator Tel: 081 016 8308 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or Alucia Sekgathume Tel: 082 689 2364 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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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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