Officially known as the Republic of South Africa (RSA), this multiethnic country is situated at the southernmost tip of Africa. South Africa is a secular democracy which encompasses a wide variety of cultures, languages and religions, the majority religion being Christianity. Race remains a huge source of social tension in post-Apartheid South Africa.

Systemic Discrimination
Free and Equal
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Constitution and government

The constitution and other laws and policies protect freedom of religion or belief, freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly and association. These rights are generally respected in practice.

The Republic of South Africa’s bill of rights states that the government may not discriminate directly or indirectly against any individual based on religion; in addition, no one may deny members of a religious group either the right to practice their religion, or to form, join, and maintain religious associations with other members of that group.

The law prohibits discrimination on grounds of religion and cases of discrimination against persons on the grounds of religious freedom may be taken to the Constitutional Court.

Education and children’s rights

The government allows, but does not require, religious education in public schools and prohibits advocating the tenets of a particular religion in public schools.

In June 2017, the South African court ruled that public education systems cannot promote any one religion to the exclusion of others. The Organization for Religious Education and Democracy (OGOD) had argued that it was in the interest of South Africa’s democracy that public schools not be allowed to favour a specific religion, and had asked the court to declare unconstitutional the religion policy of six public schools, accusing them of favouring Christianity over other religions.

Family, community and society

The Witchcraft Suppression Act of 1957 criminalises activites relating to witchcraft and witch-hunting including claiming a knowledge of witchcraft, and accusing others of practicing witchcraft. In 2007 the South African Pagan Rights Alliance and the Traditional Healers Organisation submitted requests to the South African Law Reform Commission for an investigation into the constitutionality of the act. In 2010 a South African Law Reform Commission project was approved by the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development in order to review witchcraft legislation. Older women in communities holding traditional beliefs are most vulnerable to persecution, along with children who are vulnerable to murder through some witchcraft practises, and related abuses.

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

Blasphemy, defined as “unlawfully, intentionally and publicly acting contemptuously towards God” is a common law offence in South Africa, although convictions have been rare since the early 20th Century.

Freedoms of expression and the press are protected in the constitution and generally respected in practice, though the government has shown increasing hostility to media criticism under current president Jacob Zuma, who was re-elected in 2014. Most South Africans receive the news via radio outlets, a majority of which are controlled by the state-run broadcaster South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC). The SABC also dominates the television market. The government is highly sensitive to media criticism and has increasingly encroached on the editorial independence of the SABC. In addition, government officials have used gag orders to block reporting on alleged corruption, and journalists are occasionally subject to harassment and legal action.