South Africa | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Freedom in the World 2017

South Africa


Freedom Status: 

Freedom in the World Scores

(1=Most Free, 7=Least Free)

Quick Facts

Press Freedom Status: 
Partly Free
Net Freedom Status: 

South Africa is a constitutional democracy. Since the end of apartheid in 1994, it has been regarded globally as a proponent of human rights and a leader on the African continent. However, in recent years, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) has been accused of undermining state institutions in order to protect corrupt officials and preserve its power as its support base begins to wane.

Key Developments: 
  • The long-ruling African National Congress (ANC) suffered a major setback in local elections in August, losing control of three of the country’s main municipalities.
  • President Jacob Zuma faced mounting pressure amid corruption scandals, including a report from the public protector detailing the extent of influence over the government held by a wealthy family, the Guptas.
  • In July, South Africa’s public broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), fired eight journalists for criticizing a new editorial policy that banned the broadcast of violent protests; the courts later reinstated the journalists and the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) ordered the reversal of the ban.
  • In October, the executive unilaterally initiated South Africa’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court (ICC) without consulting Parliament.
Executive Summary: 

President Jacob Zuma faced mounting corruption scandals in 2016, further undermining the reputation of the ANC and likely contributing to setbacks for the party in August local elections. The Constitutional Court, South Africa’s highest court, ruled in March that Zuma should pay back some of the money spent on upgrades to his private home in Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal. In April, the North Guateng High Court ruled that Zuma should face 783 corruption and fraud charges that had been dropped by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) in 2009. And in November, the former public protector released a report about the wide scale of “state capture” by the Guptas, a wealthy Indian immigrant family that had close ties to Zuma.

In the August elections, the ANC garnered its lowest share of the vote nationally since taking power after the end of apartheid in 1994. The preelection environment was marred by violence and suspected political killings.

Unrest that began in 2015 continued at universities throughout the country in 2016, as students protested tuition fee increases and a lack of racial transformation on campuses. Although the student protests did not always remain peaceful, the response of police and private security to the protests was at times disproportionate and included the use of rubber bullets, tear gas, and stun grenades against students. 

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