Women and Justice: Court: Constitutional Court of South Africa

Domestic Case Law

De Lange v. Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church of South Africa for the Time Being Constitutional Court of South Africa (2015)

Gender discrimination, LGBTIQ

After a Methodist Church minister (applicant) announced to her congregation her intention to marry her same-sex partner, the Methodist Church (respondent) suspended and subsequently discontinued her role as an ordained minister in early 2010. In March 2010, the applicant referred the matter to arbitration according to the Laws and Discipline of the Church. The parties could not agree on the applicant’s procedural rights and the arbitration convener proceeded with the process as provided by the Laws and Discipline of the Church. On her behalf, the convener then entered into a final agreement with the Church in May 2011. In 2012, the applicant approached the Western Cape High Court, Cape Town seeking an order to set aside the arbitration agreement in terms of the Arbitration Act. She contended that she was unfairly discriminated against on the basis of her sexual orientation. The High Court held that the applicant had not shown good cause to set aside the arbitration agreement. She then appealed to the Supreme Court of Appeal. The majority judgment of that Court agreed with the finding of the High Court. The applicant sought leave to appeal to the Constitutional Court. In a unanimous judgment, the Constitutional Court made four findings. First, the applicant had not shown good cause to set aside the arbitration agreement. Because the issue related to interpretation of religious doctrine, arbitration would be the appropriate forum. Second, since the applicant had unequivocally disavowed her unfair discrimination claim before the High Court, she was not free to raise the claim for the first time on appeal. Third, pursuant to the principle of constitutional subsidiarity, the applicant should have first brought her unfair discrimination claim to the Equality Court. Finally, the applicant failed to file a notice in terms of the Uniform Rules of the High Court, an omission that deprived other interested parties including religious communities of the opportunity to intervene as parties to the dispute or seek admission as amicus curiae in the High Court. The Court accordingly dismissed the appeal. 



National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality v. Minister of Justice Constitutional Court of South Africa (1998)

Gender discrimination, LGBTIQ

The case concerned a referral for confirmation to the Constitutional Court of an order made by the Witwatersrand High Court. The referral sought to affirm that the following laws are unconstitutional and invalid (a) the common law offence of sodomy, and (b) the inclusion of sodomy in schedules to, inter alia, the Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977, which prohibits sexual conduct between men in certain circumstances. Although technically the Constitutional Court only had to decide on the constitutionality of the inclusion of sodomy in the schedules and of the section of the Sexual Offences Act, it could not do so without also considering the constitutionality of sodomy as a common law offence. The Constitutional Court found that the offences, all aimed at prohibiting sexual intimacy between gay men, violated the right to equality by unfairly discriminating against gay men on the basis of sexual orientation. Such discrimination is presumed to be unfair since the Constitution expressly includes sexual orientation as a prohibited ground of discrimination.



South African Police Service v. Barnard Constitutional Court of South Africa (2014)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination

The South African Police Service (“SAPS”) had adopted the Employment Equity Plan (“EEP”), which sets numerical goals to produce gender and racial diversity. The appellant, Ms. Barnard, applied twice for a position in the National Evaluation Service of the SAPS in 2005. Despite being shortlisted, interviewed, and recommended as the best-suited candidate, she did not get the position on either occasion. This case concerns her second attempt, where the National Commissioner did not appoint Ms. Barnard on the grounds that it would not enhance racial representation at that salary level and that it was not necessary to fill the vacancy immediately because the post was not critical. While the Labor Court found that SAPS had unfairly discriminated against the appellant, the Labor Appeal Court found in favor of SAPS. On further appeal, the Supreme Court of Appeal (“SCA”) reversed the Labor Appeal Court’s decision and held that Ms. Barnard had been the victim of unfair discrimination on the basis of race, in violation of Section 9(3) of the Constitution and Section 6(1) of the Employment Equity Act (the Act). The Constitutional Court granted SAPS leave to appeal and unanimously reversed the SCA’s ruling in favor of Ms. Barnard. As the Court noted, the SCA found that SAPS had failed to rebut the presumption that the discrimination against Ms. Barnard was unfair. But, since the EEP was a valid affirmative action measure, the issue was not whether the Plan could overcome such presumption, but whether the decision the National Commissioner made under it was open to challenge. The Court found that the Commissioner properly exercised his discretion. Appointing Ms. Barnard would have aggravated the overrepresentation of white women at that salary level. And, the decision did not bar Ms. Barnard from future promotions.



Gumede v. President of the Republic of South Africa & Others Constitutional Court of South Africa (2008)

Divorce and dissolution of marriage, Gender discrimination, International law, Property and inheritance rights

Mrs. and Mr. Gumede, both domiciled in KwaZulu-Natal, entered into a monogamous customary marriage in 1968 and four children were born during their marriage.  Because she was forbidden by her husband to take up employment, Mrs. Gumede never worked and could not contribute to the accumulation of the family’s estate, which included two family homes.  She was always the primary caregiver of the children.  After forty years, the marriage broke down irretrievably.  Mrs. Gumede had no family and was dependent for financial support upon her children and her old-age pension.  In 2003, Mr. Gumede instituted divorce proceedings before the Divorce Court.  Mrs. Gumede also approached the High Court and obtained an order invalidating the discriminatory legislative provisions on which the Divorce Court could rely.  The Constitutional Court subsequently was approached by the Minister of Home Affairs and the KwaZulu-Natal Member of the Executive Council for Traditional Leaders and Local Government Affairs who resisted the order, for the reevaluation of the order of the High Court declaring constitutionally invalid certain sections of the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act, of the KwaZulu Act on the Code of Zulu Law 16 of 1985 and certain sections of the Natal Code of Zulu Law (Proc R155 of 1987), which regulate the proprietary consequences of customary marriages.  In a lengthy judgment, the Constitutional Court took great pains to explain that any distinction between the consequences of customary marriages entered into before and after the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act came into operation is discriminatory, inconsistent with the Constitution, and invalid.  The Constitutional Court noted the international instruments that South Africa has ratified that prohibit forms of discrimination against women, including CEDAW.  It held that the two provisions are patently discriminatory, unfair, and not justifiable.  In terms of the judgment, all monogamous customary marriages entered into before the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act came into operation are now ipso facto in community of property, excluding customary marriages which had been terminated by death or by divorce before the date of the judgment.  The Constitutional Court further held that the constitutional invalidity of Section 7(1) was limited to monogamous marriages and should not concern polygynous relationships or their proprietary consequences, determining that polygynous marriages should continue to be “regulated by customary law until parliament intervenes.”



Omar v. Government of the RSA Constitutional Court of South Africa (2006)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

The Durban Magistrate's Court issued a protection order under the Domestic Violence Act 116 of 1998 prohibiting Mr. Omar from abusing his wife, Ms. Joolab, and their children.   When Mr. Omar allegedly breached the terms of that order, the warrant was executed but was subsequently suspended.   He applied to the High Court alleging that section 8 of the Act was unconstitutional and the application was dismissed. On appeal, the Court held that section 8 does not violate the rights of access to the courts and serves to provide a mechanism to ensure compliance with protection orders and protect complainants against further domestic violence. 



State v. Baloyi Constitutional Court of South Africa (2000)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

An army officer was convicted for breaching an interdict issued by a magistrate ordering him not to assault his wife or prevent her or their child from leaving their home.  He appealed to the Transvaal High Court which declared that Section 3(5) of the Prevention of Family Violence Act was unconstitutional to the extent that it placed the burden on him to disprove his guilt. The Constitutional Court overturned the High Court's judgment, finding that the purpose of an interdict was to protect the victim of domestic violence and indicate that society would not stand by in the face of spousal abuse.  As such, fairness to the complainant required that the enquiry proceedings be speedy and dispense with the normal process of charge and plea, but in fairness to the accused, the presumption of innocence would still apply to the summary enquiry. 



Carmichele v. Minister of Safety and Security Constitutional Court of South Africa (2001)

International law, Sexual violence and rape

The applicant was sexually assaulted by a man who was awaiting trial for the attempted rape of another woman. Despite the seriousness of the alleged crime and the fact that the man had a prior rape conviction, the police and prosecutor had recommended that the man be released pending trial. The applicant sued the Minister for damages, arguing that the police and prosecutors had negligently failed to comply with a legal duty they owed to her to take steps to prevent the man from causing her harm. The High Court dismissed the applicant's claim and the Supreme Court of Appeal affirmed, holding that the police and prosecution did not owe her a duty of protection. On appeal, the Constitutional Court set aside the orders of the lower courts and remanded the case to the High Court for trial. It held that the State is obligated by the Constitution and international law to protect the dignity and security of women and in the circumstances, the police recommendation for the assailant's release could amount to wrongful conduct giving rise to liability. The Court also held that prosecutors, who are under a duty to place before the court any information relevant to the refusal or grant of bail, may be held liable for negligently failing to fulfill that duty.



K. v. Ministry of Safety and Security Constitutional Court of South Africa (2005)

Sexual violence and rape

K. sued to recover damages from the Minister of Safety and Security from being raped and assaulted by three uniformed and on-duty police sergeants.  The High Court held that the actions of the police officers fell out of the scope of their employment and that the Minister could not be held vicariously liable for their conduct.  The Court held that although the police officers' actions were obviously a clear deviation from their duty, there was a sufficiently close relationship between their employment and the wrongful conduct to hold the Minister liable. 



Masiya v. Director of Public Prosecutions (Pretoria) Constitutional Court of South Africa (2007)

Sexual violence and rape, Statutory rape or defilement

Mr. Masiya was charged with the rape of a nine-year-old girl; at the trial, evidence came out that he had penetrated the girl anally which required a conviction for indecent assault rather than rape.  The High Court, however, amended the common law definition of rape to include anal penetration as well and made the definition gender-neutral.  Mr. Masiya appealed. The Constitutional Court affirmed the High Court and held that the definition of rape must be extended to include nonconsensual anal penetration of females; the Court did say that for the court to extend the definition to include male rape would encroach onto the legislature's prerogative.