South Africa’s Constitution (1996) includes the right to have access to health care services, sufficient food and water, social security, and other basic services. In a series of rulings the country’s Constitutional Court has held that economic and social rights are judicially enforceable, and that the Government is constitutionally obligated to have in place a “reasonable” program for their fulfilment.
The goal of the LRC’s Social Security work continues to be to use the law, either by means of litigation or through law and policy reform, to ensure implementation of the State’s obligation to support those who are unable to support themselves and their dependants.
Health care is an area of major concern. This is particularly so in the light of the fact that sub-Saharan Africa remains disproportionately affected by HIV and AIDS. There are also many new challenges, such as child-headed households and the protection and custody of orphans.
Social grants are a particular focus of our work because less than 50% of South Africans who are eligible for the grants actually receive them. The principle obstacles to the rolling out and disbursement of social grants are non-budgetary, and include the lack of clear guidelines, difficulty in determining eligibility, and discrimination against HIV-positive individuals who seek a disability grant.
Vulnerable people, such as the aged, disabled and child-rearing, qualify for social assistance under the Social Assistance Act (“SAA”). Healthy people between the ages of 15 and 60 do not qualify for any relief, even though they may be living in complete destitution.
The protection and promotion of the human rights of prisoners in South Africa is another area of focus. The current situation of prisoners in South Africa is that they are detained in prisons, which are grossly overcrowded. Young offenders mix in the same cell as adult offenders. Overcrowding contributes to the following abuses and breaches of prisoners’ rights:
The number of awaiting trial prisoners and the lengthy time taken for the criminal justice system to process their cases is a violation of rights and a form of imprisonment without trial. In the IPJ Annual Report 2005, the IPJ Office found that there were 52,326 prisoners who were awaiting the commencement or finalisation of their trials. 13,880 of these ATPs are in detention because they are too poor to pay their bail. In 7 of these cases, the bail set was less than R50. A total of 9,311 ATPs are detained because they are unable to pay fines of less than R1000.
Another area in which the State is required to shoulder responsibility and that has raised a great deal of concern is that of the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers.