According to press reports the assault was racially motivated and involved the severe and cowardly beating of a 62-year-old woman by five young white men.

Incidents of this nature are irreconcilable with the constitutional values of dignity, non-racialism and non-sexism, and clearly violate the right to dignity and freedom and security of the person. They fly in the face of everything for which our Bill of Rights stands.

This incident should be seen in conjunction with a spate of recent racially motivated attacks in and around Cape Town. Apart from the obvious physical and psychological harm such incidents inflict on the victims they damage good relations between communities in our diverse multicultural society. They should accordingly be condemned by all South Africans.

The reported assault is also a shocking example of gender violence. It is exactly the kind of behaviour against which society is mobilising during the current 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence campaign. The goal of the campaign is to raise awareness of the prevalence of violence against women, which is one of the most widespread violations of human rights in our society.

Race and gender-based attacks are an affront to the most basic rights of the victims – including their right to be free from all forms of violence. The Constitution provides South Africa with a blueprint for social cohesion, in which the rights and freedoms of all people living in South Africa are protected. Such rights include the right to bodily and psychological integrity, which encompass the right to security in, and control over, one’s body.

Such assaults constitute one of the most extreme forms of racial and gender discrimination and severely violate the core right to human dignity. Section 10 of the Constitution provides that everyone has inherent dignity and the right to have their dignity respected and protected. So important is this right, that it is one of the few non-derogable rights in the Bill of Rights. This means that there can under no circumstances, be any justification whatsoever for the infringement of the right to dignity.

The Preamble to our Constitution envisages a society united in its diversity. It calls on all South Africans “to heal the divisions of the past” and to “build a united and democratic South Africa.” Conduct which violates fundamental rights and negates the core values espoused in the Constitution should not be tolerated in any form.

The law must now take its course in this case and establish all the circumstances involved in the reported assault. However, in so doing our justice system must send a clear message that race and gender-based violence will not be tolerated – whoever the perpetrators may be.

Issued by the FW de Klerk Foundation

Photo credit: darkroom productions / Foter /Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

For comment:
Dave Steward: Executive Director, FW de Klerk Foundation
Phone: 27 21 (0) 930 3622

Adv Johan Kruger: Director, Centre for Constitutional Rights
Phone: 27 21 (0) 930 3622

Megan Dick: Communications Officer, FW de Klerk Foundation
Phone: 27 21 (0) 930 3622