Report on the SAHRC Investigation into Issues of Rule of Law, Justice and Impunity arising out of the 2008 Public Violence Against Non-Nationals


Launched on 18 March 2010, this report presents findings and recommendations related to an investigation by the South African Human Rights Commission of government responses to the 2008 attacks on non-nationals across South Africa. It focuses on issues of the rule of law and justice, without which there can be no meaningful protection of human rights or redress of violations. Key among the findings were:

1) Various challenges resulting from lack of preparation for a complex disaster, and a subsequent failure to adequately preserve institutional memory of the 2008 social conflict disaster with a view to improving responses in the case of a recurrence.

2) Some progress has been made to prevent or prepare for the eventuality of future attacks, but the activities of different government entities need further development, coordination and, in the case of disaster management, evaluation and consolidation at national level.

3) Poor infrastructure and housing conditions in informal settlements creates a context in which both everyday crime and public violence are unmanageable. This resonates with research that has identified accumulated service delivery frustrations as a key characteristic of wards at risk of violence.

4) Poor relationships between communities, police and elected local leaders such as councillors undermine human security and encourage withdrawal from the justice system and indirctly promote ‘self-help’ solutions such as popular justice. Local leaders often pursue personal agendas instead of those of the community, or are simply indifferent to community concerns. This finding seems to support research that identifies the micropolitics of local communities as a factor that distinguishes communities that fall victim to social conflict.

5) Social cohesion plays an important role in the protection of non-nationals, which relates to research linking attacks to communities of high population heterogeneity.

6) So-called ‘reintegration’ of persons displaced during the 2008 violence was not carried out in a consistent and systematic way and is not being adequately monitored. Nor have existing plans to address future attacks dealt with the issue of a sustainable exit strategy to a social conflict displacement.

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