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State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2013 - South Africa

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 24 September 2013
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2013 - South Africa, 24 September 2013, available at: [accessed 24 May 2023]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

The 'Rainbow Nation' continues to be affected by its colonial and apartheid legacy. Land rights and distribution of wealth remain contested issues in South Africa. Per capita personal income among white South Africans is nearly eight times higher than that of the country's black citizens, according to the South African Institute of Race Relations. The redistribution of farmland from white owners to black citizens has progressed slowly, hindered by government mismanagement. Economic competition between small-scale black-owned farms and large-scale factory farms owned by whites exacerbates the problem by leading to economic failure and buy-backs by white farmers.

Frustrations about the process have also led to an outbreak of violent farm invasions, leading to casualties among white South Africans in 2012. The outbreak in violence is linked to calls by Julius Malema, the former president of the African National Congress (ANC) Youth League, for whites to give up their land without compensation or face violence by angry black youths 'flooding their farms'. Malema was charged with hate speech in 2010 and 2011 and was expelled from the ANC in April 2012. One of the incidents of hate speech included singing the song 'Shoot the Boer' (a South African term simultaneously used for white farmers and descendants of Dutch-speaking white settlers).

In January 2012, President Jacob Zuma also sang 'Shoot the Boer' at the ANC centenary celebration. He claimed that this was not intended as hate speech, but to commemorate the struggle against apartheid. However, his actions may contribute to an increase in ethnic tension.

Land rights continue to be an issue for the Khoisan indigenous community, who feel disadvantaged by the provisions in the 2011 land reform green paper. The reform does not take into account dispossession of land before 1913, which, according to the Khoisan group Sapco, excludes most Khoisan claims. However, Khoisan can apply for land under the government's redistribution programme, according to academics. Nonetheless, Sapco representatives, as well as some Dutch-speaking Afrikaner groups, argue that the current land reform policy will benefit the black majority but not minorities or indigenous communities.

South Africa took a big step towards improving general health care in the country in 2012 by introducing the first stage of a universal health care plan. The national health insurance, first introduced in 10 selected districts, is intended eventually to provide essential health care to all citizens and legal residents. This will greatly benefit the black majority and minority groups that suffer from a rudimentary public health care system, which provides services for 80 per cent of the population, and a lack of doctors in public health care. A rich white minority tends to benefit from private health care providers.

The introduction of universal health care could also benefit the highly marginalized San communities. New health care facilities in remote San regions will facilitate their access to health care services and medicine.

The South African government has also taken steps to formalize the role of traditional healers. In February the government inaugurated the Council for Traditional Health Practitioners to regulate the quality of services delivered by diviners, healers, traditional birth attendants and herbalists, and to protect the public from bogus practitioners. Traditional healers play an important role in South African health care, since they are often more likely to be contacted than western doctors, especially by the Zulu and Xhosa communities.

The 42 deaths and hundreds of injuries of Xhosa boys from botched circumcisions in the first six months of 2012 highlighted the need for stronger regulations for traditional healers. Most deaths and injuries in the ritual have occurred in the Mpondoland region of Eastern Cape. The Eastern Cape House of Traditional Leaders insists it is taking the problem seriously and running a campaign for safety at initiation schools.

South Africa has the highest number of people living with HIV/AIDS in the world, but there are large differences between communities.[9] The mainly Zulu minority region KwaZulu-Natal has the highest HIV prevalence, with 15.8 per cent, followed by the Swati- and Zulu-speaking Mpumalanga region, with 15.4 per cent (compared to the national average of 10.9 per cent and 3.8 per cent in the Western Cape). Women are significantly more likely to be HIV-positive. The overall HIV prevalence in South Africa is slowly decreasing, but at the same time the HIV prevalence among young pregnant women has increased from 22.8 per cent in 1994 to 29.3 per cent in 2010. If current trends continue, South Africa is unlikely to achieve all its MDGs on HIV.

The highest HIV prevalence rates among women attending antenatal clinics are in KwaZulu-Natal (39.5 per cent) and in Mpumalanga region (35.1 per cent), according to a 2010 study by the South African Department of Health.

In some Zulu communities misinformation about HIV puts female babies and young girls at a particularly high risk. The so-called 'virgin cleansing myth', according to which an HIV-positive person can be healed through intercourse with a virgin, is held responsible for higher numbers of sexual assaults against female minors.

Tuberculosis remains the main cause of death in South Africa. It is linked to the high prevalence of HIV. South Africa accounts for 28 per cent of the world's people living with both HIV and tuberculosis. People whose immune systems have been weakened by HIV are much more likely to be infected with tuberculosis.


9. Avert, 'South Africa HIV and AIDS statistics', retrieved June 2013,; UNAIDS, South Africa Country Progress Report 2012, retrieved June 2013,

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