On 1 July 2021, the African Policing Civilian Oversight Forum (APCOF), together with the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), hosted a webinar to launch APCOF’s latest research paper, Poverty is Not a Crime: Decriminalising Petty By-laws in South Africa. The paper examines metropolitan municipal by-laws that have the effect of criminalising poverty and entrenching social and economic marginalisation, and recommends the adoption of alternative frameworks for dealing with poverty rather than criminalisation.
The event was moderated by APCOF Trustee Annelize van Wyk, with the keynote address by SAHRC Commissioner, Chris Nissen. Presentations from experts addressed various interrelated topics which, together, underlined existing concerns that the existence and enforcement of petty by-laws are inconsistent with the free exercise of basic democratic rights and freedoms. Submissions also underpinned the need to review and repeal petty by-laws to give effect to the values that are foundational to our Constitution and other regional and international norms and standards that are legally binding on South Africa.
This report draws on the inputs of the panellists to provide the following thematic summary of the origin and nature of petty by-laws in South Africa, their enforcement and impact on the human rights and dignity of the poor and marginalised. It also explores the availability of rights-centred alternatives to criminalisation within the framework of existing obligation on the three spheres of government to address structural inequality, poverty and exclusion.