Women and Justice: Location


Recognition of Customary Marriage Act (1998)

Divorce and dissolution of marriage

The Act recognizes customary marriages solemnized in accordance with customary law. Customary law is defined as, “the customs and usages traditionally observed among the indigenous African peoples of South Africa and which form part of the culture of those peoples.” Both monogamous and polygamous marriages are recognized under the Act. Although registration of a customary marriage is peremptory, a failure to register a customary marriage does not affect the validity of that marriage. The definition of customary law in this Act does not apply to Hindu and Muslim customary marriages.

Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act (2013)

Forced and early marriage, Sexual violence and rape, Statutory rape or defilement, Trafficking in persons

The Act defines and prohibits human trafficking. The PCTP Act adopts a broad definition of human trafficking, namely, that a person is guilty of human trafficking if he or she delivers, recruits, transports, transfers, harbours, sells, exchanges, leases or receives another person, through various means, including the use of force, deception, or coercion, aimed at the person or an immediate family member for the purpose of exploitation. Furthermore, a person who adopts a child, facilitated or secured through legal or illegal means; or concludes a forced marriage with another person, for the purposes of exploitation of that child or person, is guilty of an offence. The PCTP Act criminalizes various acts that constitute or relate to trafficking in persons and imposes harsh penalties, including life imprisonment for trafficking in persons; 15 years’ imprisonment for engaging in conduct that causes a person to enter into debt bondage or benefiting from services of a trafficking victim; and 10 years’ imprisonment for facilitating trafficking. The PCTP Act also provides for severe fines and enables the state to confiscate the assets of traffickers.

Reform of Customary Law of Succession and Regulation of Related Matters Act 11 (2009)

Gender discrimination, Harmful traditional practices, Property and inheritance rights

The Act abolishes the customary rule of primogeniture in as far as it applies to the law of succession and further extends the application of the Intestate Succession Act to the deceased estates of Africans who die intestate (without a will) and provides guidelines for interpreting the Intestate Succession Act in order to give effect to the new provisions and to ensure the protection of the rights of women to inherit.

Criminal Law Amendment Act No. 105 (1997)

Sexual violence and rape

Section 51 of the Act provides for certain mandatory sentences and sentencing guidelines which a regional court or high court may impose and consider for, inter alia, rape and compelled rape (minimum sentences may be reduced for compelling and substantial circumstances). The Act specifically provides that when considering imposing a sentence in respect of the offence of rape, a court must not consider the following circumstances as constituting compelling circumstances to deviate from the minimum sentencing guidelines: the complainant’s sexual history, lack of physical injury, culture or religious beliefs of accused or any relationship of the parties prior to assault.

Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act 32 of 2007 (2007)

Sexual violence and rape

The Act was adopted to comprehensively and extensively deal with all sexual offences under a single statute. The act, inter alia, repeals the common law offences of rape and replaces it with an expanded definition of rape applicable to all form of sexual penetration without consent irrespective of gender and repeals other common law offences related to indecent assault and penetration and replaces them with broader statutory offences. 

Sexual Offences Act (1998)

Sexual harassment, Sexual violence and rape, Trafficking in persons

The Sexual Offences Act recognizes in its preamble that women are particularly vulnerable to becoming victims of sexual offences, particularly adult prostitution. The Act prohibits prostitution, the operation of brothels, and other activities related to prostitution and brothel-keeping.

Domestic Violence Act and the Domestic Violence Regulations (1999)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

The Domestic Violence Act and the Domestic Violence Regulations promulgated thereunder offer complainants (any person in a domestic relationship who alleges she/he is the subject of domestic violence, including a child in the care of the complainant) the maximum protection possible from domestic abuse by imposing obligations on the police and other organs of state to prevent and assist the elimination of domestic violence (defined as including, inter alia, sexual abuse, physical abuse, stalking and harassment). Persons deemed to be in a domestic relationship include, inter alia, persons married by any law or custom, persons living (or who recently lived) together, parents of a child and parties in a romantic or sexual relationship. The Act allows any complainant to obtain a protection order against a respondent by application to the court and allows for interim orders to be granted without the respondent having received notice of such application in certain circumstances. When granting a protection order the court must make an order for the arrest of the respondent and may make an order to confiscate any weapons in the respondent’s possession.

Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act (2000)

Employment discrimination, Female genital mutilation or female genital cutting, Gender discrimination, Gender-based violence in general, Harmful traditional practices, Property and inheritance rights, Sexual violence and rape

The purpose of the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act is to give effect to section 9 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, read in conjunction with item 23(1) of its sixth schedule. The effect of this is to prevent and prohibit unfair discrimination and harassment; to promote equality and eliminate unfair discrimination; to prevent and prohibit hate speech; and to provide for matters connected therewith. Section 8 expands on the provisions of Section 9 by setting out, without limitation, the following specific examples of such prohibited discrimination: (a) gender-based violence; (b) female genital mutilation; (c) the system of preventing women from inheriting family property; (d) any practice, including traditional, customary or religious practice, which impairs the dignity of women and undermines equality between women and men, including the undermining of the dignity and well-being of the girl child; (e) any policy or conduct that unfairly limits access of women to land rights, finance, and other resources; (f) discrimination on the ground of pregnancy; (g) limiting women’s access to social services or benefits, such as health education and social security; (h) the denial of access to opportunities, including access to services or contractual opportunities for rendering services for consideration, or failing to take steps to reasonably accommodate the needs of such persons; and (i) systemic inequality of access to opportunities by women as a result of the sexual division of labor.  The Act further regulates which party will bear the burden of proof in discrimination cases and further sets out which factors should be taken into account in determining whether discrimination is fair or unfair.

The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa (1996)

Gender discrimination

Section 9 of the Constitution provides for the right to equality. Section 9(1) provides that "Everyone is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection and benefit of the law."  Section 9(3) states that "The State may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds, including race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, color, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth". Section 9(4) provides that "No person may unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds in terms of subsection (3). National legislation must be enacted to prevent or prohibit unfair discrimination." Finally, subsection (5) provides that "Discrimination on one or more of the grounds listed in subsection (3) is unfair unless it is established that the discrimination is fair." This includes discrimination on the basis of gender, sex or pregnancy.

Domestic Case Law

Govender v. Ragavayah High Court of South Africa: Durban and Coast Local Division (2008)

Harmful traditional practices, Property and inheritance rights

The applicant was a woman married according to Hindu rites. Accordingly, when her husband died intestate, his parents stood to inherit his estate. The applicant sought a declaratory judgment that the word “spouse” as used in the Intestate Succession Act 81 of 1987 includes a surviving partner to a monogamous Hindu marriage. The Court granted the declaratory judgment and held that the applicant was entitled to inherit from her deceased husband.

Moosa N.O. and Others v. Harnaker and Others High Court of South Africa: Western Cape Division (2017)

Gender discrimination, Property and inheritance rights

The deceased was married to the second and third applicant under Islamic law. The marriage of the deceased and the third applicant was entered into before the marriage between the deceased and the second applicant. However, the deceased and the second applicant entered into a civil marriage to qualify for a home loan. Following the death of the deceased, The Registrar of Deeds, Cape Town, refused to register the title deed to the family home in the name of the third applicant. The Registrar’s refusal was premised on the meaning of the term “surviving spouse” as contemplated in terms of section 2C(1) of the Wills Act 7 of 1953 (the “Wills Act”). According to the Registrar, the only recognised surviving spouse of the deceased is the second applicant as they entered into a civil marriage. The Court declared section 2C(1) of the Wills Act unconstitutional as it does not recognise the rights of spouses married under Islamic law nor multiple female spouses married to a deceased testator in polygynous Muslim marriages.

Hassam v. Jacobs NO Constitutional Court (2009)

Gender discrimination

The applicant was in a polygamous Muslim marriage. After her husband died intestate, the respondent, the executor of the deceased’s estate, refused the applicant’s claims on the basis that polygynous Muslim marriages were not legally recognised under the Intestate Succession Act. The court held that precluding the applicant from an inheritance unfairly discriminated on the grounds of religion, marital status, and gender, and was therefore inconsistent with section 9 of the Constitution. The court found that section 1 of the Intestate Succession Act was inconsistent with the Constitution and invalid to the extent that it did not include more than one spouse in a polygynous Muslim marriage in the protection afforded to “a spouse.” Accordingly, the applicant could inherit from her late husband’s estate.

Daniels v. Campbell and Others Constitutional Court (2004)

Gender discrimination, Harmful traditional practices, Property and inheritance rights

The applicant was a woman married according to Muslim rites and whose husband had died intestate. The marriage was not solemnized by a marriage officer under the Marriage Act 25 of 1961. The house in which the applicant and her husband had lived was transferred to the deceased’s estate. The applicant was told that she could not inherit from the estate of the deceased because she had been married according to Muslim rites, and therefore was not a “surviving spouse.” A claim for maintenance against the estate was rejected on the same basis. The Court held that the word “spouse” as used in the Intestate Succession Act includes the surviving partner to a monogamous Muslim marriage and that the word “survivor” as used in the Maintenance of Surviving Spouses Act 27 of 1990, includes the surviving partner to a monogamous Muslim marriage.

Bhe and Others v. Khayelitsha Magistrate Constitutional Court (2004)

Gender discrimination, Harmful traditional practices, Property and inheritance rights

This judgment constituted three related cases (Bhe, Shibi and SAHRC), which were decided together and concerned the African customary law rule of primogeniture. In Bhe, a mother brought an action to secure the property of her deceased husband for her daughters. In Shibi, the applicant was denied the right to inherit from her deceased brother’s intestate estate under African customary law. In SAHRC, the South African Human Rights Commission and the Women’s Legal Centre Trust brought an action in the public interest to declare the rule of male primogeniture contained within section 23 of the Black Administration Act 38 of 1927 invalid. The Constitutional Court declared section 23 invalid, meaning that all deceased estates were to be governed by the Intestate Succession Act 81 of 1987, under which widows and children can benefit regardless of their gender or legitimacy. The Court also ordered the division of estates in circumstances where the deceased person was in a polygamous marriage and was survived by more than one spouse and ordered that, in such instances, a surviving spouse shall inherit a child’s share of the intestate estate or so much of the intestate estate as does not exceed in value the amount fixed by the Minister for Justice and Constitutional Development by notice in the Gazette.

Dlanjwa v. Minister of Safety and Security Supreme Court of Appeal (2015)

Domestic and intimate partner violence, Property and inheritance rights

The appellant was shot by her husband, who subsequently committed suicide.  Her husband was employed by the South African Police Service, so she sued the Minister of Safety and Security for general damages, medical expenses, loss of earnings, and loss of support arising from her injuries and the deceased’s suicide. She also sued for loss of support on behalf of her infant triplets with the deceased.  The appellant alleged that the shooting and suicide were caused by, inter alia, the negligence of the station commander and/or certain police officials.  The appellant claimed that these police officers failed to (a) dispossess the deceased of the firearm, (b) initiate disciplinary steps against him, and (c) have him criminally charged despite her previous requests and their knowledge that the deceased abused alcohol, had a violent temper and suicidal tendencies, had assaulted her, pointed a firearm at her and threatened to shoot her and thereafter kill himself, which led her to obtain a protection order against him under the Domestic Violence Act 1998.  The Supreme Court of Appeal found that: (a) the police had a legal duty to investigate the appellant’s complaints once she reported that she feared for her safety; (b) the police negligently breached that duty by failing to take measures to protect the appellant from being injured by the deceased (and prevent the deceased from killing himself); and (c) the appellant had established wrongfulness on the part of the police due to the causal connection established between the police’s negligent breach of duty and the harm suffered by the appellant.  The court therefore upheld the appeal.

Naidoo v. Minister of Police Supreme Court of Appeal (2015)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

The plaintiff attempted to bring a charge of assault against her former husband under the Domestic Violence Act of 1998 (“the DVA”). She was incorrectly advised by a police officer that she required a protection order from the Magistrate Court before she could receive police assistance. She was then told by a second officer that her former husband would bring a similar charge of assault against her if she persisted. The plaintiff, along with her former husband, was arrested. She filed a claim for damages against, inter alia, the Minister of Police, arguing that (i) the officials involved were acting in the course and within the scope of their employment and (ii) the Minister of Police was vicariously liable for failing to comply with the DVA. The court agreed that the DVA requires the police to assist and provide the maximum protection possible to victims of domestic abuse.

Women's Legal Centre Trust v. President of the Republic of South Africa and Others High Court of South Africa: Western Cape Division (2018)

Gender discrimination, Property and inheritance rights

The plaintiff petitioned to bring three consolidated actions directly to the Constitutional Court.  They sought a declaratory order that the President recognize Muslim marriages as valid for all purposes in South Africa.  The Constitutional Court dismissed the plaintiffs’ plea for direct access and instead directed them to the High Court.  The High Court held that the State’s failure to enact legislation recognising religious Muslim marriages violated the rights of Muslim women based on religion, marital status, gender, and sex.  The court directed the President, Cabinet, and Parliament to prepare and bring into operation legislation to recognise marriages performed in accordance with Sharia law.

Jezile v. State High Court of South Africa: Western Cape Division (2015)

Domestic and intimate partner violence, Forced and early marriage, Harmful traditional practices, Sexual violence and rape, Statutory rape or defilement, Trafficking in persons

The appellant was convicted in a regional magistrates' court of one count of human trafficking, three counts of rape, one count of assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, and one count of common assault against a 14-year-old schoolgirl, whom he had married in accordance with customary marriage laws. After she ran away from the appellant, the appellant took the complainant to Cape Town by taxi, where they resided with the appellant's brother and his wife. There, the incidents of rape and assault occurred. The appellant raised as one of his defenses and as a ground of appeal that the alleged rapes took place in the context of a customary arranged marriage, or ukuthwala. According to expert evidence, ukuthwala was an irregular form of initiating a customary marriage. Experts have stated that, in its traditional form, ukuthwala was consensual and innocuous, but there existed an 'aberrant' form in which young girls were abducted and often raped and beaten to force them into marriage. The magistrate held that the matter was not about ukuthwala and its place in our constitutional democracy, but about whether the state had shown that the accused had committed the offences he was charged with and, if so, whether he acted with the knowledge of wrongfulness and the required intent. The court held that child-trafficking and any form of abuse or exploitation of minors for sexual purposes is not tolerated in South Africa’s constitutional dispensation. Furthermore, it ruled that the appellant could not rely on traditional ukuthwala as justification for his conduct because practices associated with an aberrant form of ukuthwala could not secure protection under the law. Thus, the Court could not find that he did not traffic the complainant for sexual purposes or that he had committed the rapes without the required intention  ̶  even on the rather precarious grounds of appellant’s assertion that his belief in the aberrant form of ukuthwala constituted a 'traditional' custom of his community.

Levenstein v. Frankel Constitutional Court (2018)

Sexual violence and rape, Statutory rape or defilement

The case was initially brought to the High Court by individuals who had suffered childhood sexual molestation by the deceased, a prominent financier and philanthropist, in the 1970s and ‘80s. The applicants were unable to pursue criminal charges due of the effect of s18(f) of the Criminal Procedure Act 1997, which imposed a 20-year statute of limitations for most sexual offences (excluding rape, sexual trafficking, and using a child or a mentally disabled person for pornographic purposes). However, the High Court found s18(f) to be unconstitutional. The Constitutional Court affirmed, removing the statute of limitations for prosecuting all sexual offences.

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.

Mgolozeli v. Gauteng Department of Finance Labour Court of South Africa (2014)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination

The applicant, a male, applied for a senior managerial position previously occupied by a woman. After undergoing a psychometric assessment, he was recommended for appointment. The recommendation was turned down “due to the gender imbalance at SMS level”. The applicant claimed that he had been unfairly discriminated against on the basis of his sex because the target, set by the Gauteng Provincial Legislature, did not comply with the provisions of the Employment Equity Act (EEA), 55 of 1998. The respondent contended that, although it had not adopted an equity plan, it had set itself a target of 50% females in senior management positions. The Court noted that when the second respondent took the decision not to appoint the applicant, there was great confusion regarding the actual gender balance at the senior management level. However, the Court was prepared to accept that, at the time, females filled only 29% senior management posts. The EEA requires that equity plans must provide objectives for each year, their duration, and procedures for evaluating their implementation. The Court noted that, in SA Police Service v Solidarity obo Barnard (Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union as amicus curiae [2014] 11 BLLR 1025 (CC)), the Constitutional Court had confirmed that competent courts must ensure that validly adopted equity plans are applied lawfully. Apart from the fact that the respondent had no plan, it had no mechanism to track the levels of gender representation. The second respondent had applied the target without considering the panel’s reasons for its recommendation. Affirmative action had been applied ad hoc, in a haphazard, arbitrary, and random manner. The responsible official had applied a quota system and raised an absolute barrier, both of which were impermissible. The affirmative action measure applied by the respondents conflicted with both the Constitution and the EEA. Accordingly, the measure had unfairly discriminated against the applicant. The respondents were directed to appoint the applicant to the post concerned and pay him compensation equal to the difference between the salary he had earned and the salary he should have earned, with retrospective effect.

Ekhamanzi Springs Ltd. v. Mnomiya Labor Appeal Court of South Africa (2014)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination

The respondent was employed by the appellant to bottle Aquelle spring water. The appellant’s plant was located on property belonging to a religious mission, and to gain access to the workplace, the appellant’s employees had to cross the mission’s property. The mission’s security guards were instructed to bar entry to any persons who did not comply with its code of conduct; one provision, for example, prohibited “amorous relationships between any two persons outside of marriage”. The respondent and a colleague were denied access because they became pregnant outside of marriage. Consequently, the respondent and her colleague were not able to access the workplace, as they were refused access to the mission’s property. They were subsequently fired. The court ruled that the dismissal of the respondent employee was automatically unfair because she had been dismissed for her pregnancy. The court noted that all persons have a constitutional right to equality. Discriminatory dismissals, such as this one, are accordingly automatically unfair and higher compensation is allowed in such cases. Employers are obliged to avoid discriminating against employees directly or indirectly  ̶  protection against being discriminated against on the ground of pregnancy is not a preserve of married women. An agreement that denies pregnant employees access to the workplace is accordingly prima facie unenforceable unless it can be justified on grounds consistent with constitutional norms. The mission’s code of conduct interfered with the employment relationship between the appellant and its employees and created a situation in which breaches could lead to dismissal. Such provisions blurred the line between the appellant’s terms and conditions of employment and the mission’s code.  That the employee was not a party to the mission’s code proved decisive. As lessee, the appellant had legal remedies to compel the mission to allow full use and enjoyment of the leased property. The appellant’s faint plea of operational necessity could not serve as a defense because it had failed to exercise its rights as lessee to protect its pregnant employees. The employee had tendered her services, and the appellant’s refusal to accept the tender constituted a breach of contract. The court further held that the appellant’s acquiescence in the mission’s discriminatory practice of barring unwed pregnant women from the leased premises violated the appellant’s constitutional duty to treat its employees fairly and was a breach of its common law duty to accept the employees into service. The court, therefore, confirmed that the employee had been dismissed and that her dismissal was automatically unfair. The court also confirmed the remedy of 12 months’ compensation.

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.”

Jan Oompie Kolea v. The State Supreme Court of Appeal of South Africa (2012)

Gender-based violence in general, Sexual violence and rape

Mr. Kolea was convicted of repeatedly raping a woman with another man and sentenced to 15 years in prison under s 51(2) of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 105 of 1997 (the Act). When Mr. Kolea appealed the ruling and the sentence it was found that his conviction should in fact be read under s 51(1) of the Act which imposes a minimum sentence of life in prison when the victim was raped more than once by more than one person. Mr. Kolea was duly sentenced to life in prison and his appeal was dismissed. This case broke a previous trend of judges neglecting to impose life sentences under s 51(1), instead giving lighter sentences under s 51(2) even in the case of multiple rapes. The real threat of life imprisonment is a crucial precedent to set in South Africa, where rape is common and often overlooked or punished with leniency.

Minister of Safety and Security v. Katise Supreme Court of Appeal of South Africa (2013)

Domestic and intimate partner violence, Gender violence in conflict, Gender-based violence in general

Mr. Katise was arrested when police were called to his home and found that he had attacked his wife. Charges for domestic violence under South Africa’s Domestic Violence Act 116 of 1998 were eventually repealed and after suing for unlawful arrest and detention on the grounds that there was no warrant for his arrest, Mr. Katise was awarded damages. In an appeal, the judge overturned this ruling, citing s 40(1)(q) of the Criminal Procedure Act which allows peace officers to arrest anyone reasonably suspected of violating the Domestic Violence Act of 1998. The judge in this case took an important stand against leniency on domestic violence cases, giving peace officers far more latitude to protect the rights of women and furthering the protection of women’s rights in South Africa, a country marred by sexual violence.

Incorporated Law Society v. Wookey, 1912 AD 623 Appellant Division (1912)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination

A firm of attorneys was willing to enroll Madeline Wookey as an articled clerk, but Wookey met with opposition from the Cape Law Society, which refused to register her articles. Wookey submitted an application to the Cape Supreme Court, which ordered the Society to register her. The Law Society appealed this decision to the Appellate Division, arguing that Wookey could not be admitted as an attorney because she was a woman. The Appellate Division was called upon to decide whether the term “persons” used in the statute governing admission of attorneys to the bar included only “male persons” or also included women. They determined that “persons” included only male persons, thus excluding women from the legal profession.

Schlesin v. Incorporated Law Society, 1909 TSC 363. Transvaal Supreme Court (1909)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination

In 1909, Judge Bristowe of the Transvaal Supreme Court presided over Schlesin v. Incorporated Law Society, the first case in South Africa to consider whether women had a right to enter the legal profession. The Transvaal Supreme Court held that women were barred from admission to legal practice based on historical practice in South Africa, Holland, and England. Judge Bristowe explained that the Interpretation of Laws Proclamation 15 of 1902 provided that “words of the masculine gender shall include females…unless contrary intention appears” and found that given long historical practice, it was evident that contrary intention did indeed appear in the legislation governing admission to the bar.

Van Zijl v. Hoogenhout (2004)

Sexual violence and rape, Statutory rape or defilement

The appellant suffered years of sexual abuse by her uncle, the respondent, during her childhood.   She sued him for damages at the age of 48 and the respondent claimed that her suit should have been brought within one year of her attaining her majority. The Court held that the victim of sexual abuse as a child who only in adulthood acquired an appreciation of the responsibility of the abuser for the abuse may sue the abuser within three years of acquiring that appreciation.

W.N. v. The State (2008)

Sexual violence and rape, Statutory rape or defilement

The appellant, a minor, was sentenced to 10 years for the rape of a fellow classmate and appeals his sentence on the grounds that it was too excessive. The lower court sentenced the appellant-defendant to direct imprisonment rather than probation after hearing testimony about the appellant's unrepentant nature and lack of parental supervision. The Supreme Court of Appeal upheld the decision, finding that correctional supervision would have lacked the appropriate punitive impact demanded by the offense and deterrent effect.

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. 

State v. Engelbrecht High Court of South Africa (2003)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

In determining sentencing for a woman convicted of murdering her spouse, expert testimony regarding battered woman syndrome is more relevant to the sentencing decision than to the assessment of the legality of the defendant's actions.  The court reviewed a line of cases involving women convicted of murdering their abusive partners.  Although the court cited a variety of mitigating factors that should be considered (e.g., the sustained nature of the abusive conduct, the presence of children in the home,etc.), it held that foremost is the actual effect sustained domestic violence has on women. As a result, the court found expert testimony confirming that the defendant suffered form the syndrome to be a "substantial and compelling" reason to suspend the defendant's sentence. 

State v. Ferreira and Others (2004)

Domestic and intimate partner violence, Gender violence in conflict, Gender-based violence in general

The appellant, convicted of hiring two workers to kill her abusive husband, argued for a reduced sentence.  The court held that a lesser sentence is permitted only when there are "truly convincing" circumstances or where a life sentence is disproportionate or unjust. Expert testimony regarding battering and its effects showed how her behavior fit a well-known pattern for abused women.  The court found this testimony convincing and held that the appellant's  use of third parties to kill her husband did not invalidate her claim to be a victim of battering.  Additionally, the court held that appellant's failure to testify should have no effect on her credibility. The court reduced her sentence but declined to acquit the appellant because of the premeditated nature of the act.

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.

State. v. Jackson (1997)

Sexual violence and rape, Statutory rape or defilement

Jackson was charged with the attempted rape of S., a 17-year-old girl when he tied her wrists and attempted to have intercourse with her.   She fought him off and managed to escape the car and subsequently was examined by a doctor who found some evidence of unlubricated sexual contact, but no conclusive evidence of penetration. Jackson appealed on the grounds of the cautionary rule, encouraging that accusations of rape be handled cautiously to prevent false convictions. The Court held that the cautionary rule was based on outdated stereotypes against women and that in criminal cases, the burden is on the State to prove the guilt of the accused beyond a reasonable doubt, without an application of a general cautionary rule. The Court adopted the formula used in England whereby a judge could choose, on a case by case basis, to use caution only in cases where it was proven that the complainant was untrustworthy for some reason, e.g. had made previous false complaints or bore the defendant a grudge. 

Director of Public Prosecutions, Transvaal v. Minister for Justice and Constitutional Development and Others Constitutional Court [South Africa] (2009)

Sexual violence and rape, Statutory rape or defilement

Two men convicted of child rape challenged the constitutionality of the Sexual Offenses Act's amendments to the existing Criminal Procedure Act (CPA).  The amendments permit child victims and witnesses of sexual offenses to participate in modified court proceedings to facilitate testimony.  The lower court declared the amendments to the CPA constitutionally invalid.  The Constitutional Court reversed the ruling, holding  that (1) courts must inquire into the need to appoint  an intermediary in sexual offense trials whenever children  are expected to testify, regardless of whether the state raises the issue; (2) courts may exercise discretion whether to hold proceedings in camera; and (3) courts must give reasons for refusing to allow the use of intermediaries or other safeguards.

State. v. J.M. (2002)

Sexual violence and rape, Statutory rape or defilement

The appellant, M., was tried before a regional magistrate for the rape of his six-year-old daughter during 1989. He was convicted and sentenced to ten years imprisonment, which he appealed. The Court held that, especially given the age of the complainant at the time, the question of a consensual sexual relationship is moot and further stipulated that the sexual history of the complainant is not relevant in a charge of rape, unless the Court specifically judges it to be so.

Egglestone v. The State (2008)

Sexual violence and rape

A high school teenage girl from an impoverished neighborhood consented to undergo job training as a receptionist at the appellant's escort agency. She alleged that during her training, the appellant held her against her will, and raped and sexually assaulted her. The appellant argued that his conviction should be overturned because the victim had consented.  The court dismissed the kidnapping charges, but upheld the rape and sexual assault charges. The court acknowledged that although the victim consented to parts of the training (i.e. wearing lingerie and taking up residence at the employer's compound), she did not consent to sexual intercourse with the appellant.  The court also noted that because of the appellant's age (twice that of the victim) and his promise of employment, he exercised a dominant position over the victim that made it difficult for her to refuse his advances.

State. v. Mahomotsa (2002)

Sexual violence and rape, Statutory rape or defilement

The accused was charged and convicted on two separate counts of rape for raping two 15-year-old girls more than once and sentenced to six years imprisonment on the first and ten years imprisonment on the second count.  On appeal, the defense was put forward that the sentence was too severe because of mitigating circumstances in that the victims did not suffer serious physical or psychological injuries and that both victims had previously been sexually active. The Court dismissed the appeal and held that the sentences were, in fact, too lenient, especially as the victims' previous sexual history was irrelevant and also that the extent of harm to the victims matters less because rape is a basic violation of dignity.  The sentence was increased to 8 years for the first count and 12 years for the second.

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. 

SONKE Gender Justice Network v. Malema Equality Court for the District of Johannesburg (2009)

Gender discrimination, Sexual harassment, Sexual violence and rape

The respondent made comments at a political rally regarding the consent of the complainant in Jacob Zuma's rape trial. Specifically, he opined that a rape victim would leave early in the morning, but the complainant in this case had stayed for breakfast and requested money for a taxi. The plaintiff, a gender justice organization, sued him for hate speech, unfair discrimination, and harassment of women. The court found that the respondent's comments were based on prohibited grounds as outlined in South Africa's Equality Act, specifically sex and gender. The court also found the comments expressed by the respondent constituted "generalizations about women, rape, and consent which reinforce[d] rape myths." Moreover, the respondent's words suggested "that men need not obtain explicit [sexual] consent from women." The court found the respondent liable for hate speech and harassment.  For these reasons, the court concluded the respondent infringed the rights of women and ordered him to pay a fine and make a public apology.

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.

Van Eeden v. Minister of Safety and Security (2002)

Sexual violence and rape

The appellant was assaulted, raped and robbed by Andre Gregory Mohamed, who had escaped from prison where he was facing 22 charges for indecent assault, rape and armed robbery. The appellant sued the State for damages, arguing that the police owed her a legal duty to take reasonable steps to prevent Mohamed from escaping and causing her harm and that they had negligently failed to comply with such duty.  The Constitutional Court applied its recent holding in Carmichele v. Minister of Safety and Security and held that the state is obliged both by the Constitution and by international law to protect women from violence and the police should be held liable for its negligence in not taking reasonable action to prevent Mohamed's escape, especially in light of the fact that they knew that Mohamed was a dangerous serial rapist who was likely to commit further offenses against women should he escape. The court affirmed the state's liability for any damages suffered by the applicant.

Media 24 Ltd. & Another v. Grobler (2005)

Gender discrimination, Sexual harassment

The respondent won a judgment against the appellant for 13 by a manager trainee employed  by the appellant.  On appeal the appellant claimed (1) it could not be held liable for its employee's actions that occurred off work premises, (2) it had no knowledge of the harassment incidences, and (3) the employee was not acting within the scope of employment.   The court held that employers have a legal duty to protect their employees from physical and psychological harm caused by co-employees.


Sexual Violence by Educators in South African Schools: Gaps in Accountability (2014)

Gender-based violence in general, Sexual harassment, Sexual violence and rape

The Centre for Applied Legal Studies at the University of Witwatersrand and Avon Global Center for Women and Justice at Cornell Law School released a joint report on sexual violence committed by educators against students in South African schools.

International Case Law

M v. The State, Supreme Court of Appeal of South Africa Supreme Court of Appeal of South Africa (2013)

Sexual violence and rape

A man in South Africa was convicted of raping his adopted daughter over the course of a sexually abusive relationship that lasted several years and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. The judge overruled claims that the victim had given consent, holding that the victim’s lack of resistance did not qualify as active consent. Furthermore, the judge held that that the perpetrator had knowingly employed sexual grooming techniques to leverage the victim into sexual acts. In refuting the perpetrator’s claims that he believed the victim to be consenting, the judge in this case took an important step in defending victim’s rights and acknowledging the complicated power dynamics that often underlie sexual crimes. This case opens the path for victims of similarly complex patterns of sexual abuse to come forward and claim their rights, providing vital recourse for the many victims of sexual crimes in South Africa.


Exclusion of women from the legal profession in the United States of America, the United Kingdom and South Africa (2012)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination

This memorandum provides a brief overview of the key statutes, cases, and legal arguments that sanctioned the exclusion of women from the bar and, by extension, the bench, in the United States of America, the United Kingdom, and South Africa.