My Constitution, my rights. A plain language guide to the Bill of Rights

South Africa’s Constitution is admired all over the world, especially Chapter 2 – the Bill of Rights, which guarantees our freedom. Get to know your rights, and protect the rights of others.

The Bill of Rights protects the freedom of all the people who live in South Africa. It is the second chapter of the Constitution – the highest law of the land. The Constitution was signed into law by President Nelson Mandela in 1996.

Many experts have said that South Africa’s Bill of Rights is the best in the world, because it protects so many freedoms, so well, for all of us.

The Bill of Rights contains Section 7 to Section 39 of the Constitution. The human rights it protects are laid out in 27 sections, from Section 9 to Section 37.

Note: This is only a guide to your rights, in plain English. It is not a legal document. To really get to know your rights, read the original Bill of Rights:
Read the full text of the Bill of Rights
Read the Bill of Rights in your own language

Jump to your rights:

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EQUALITY
► You are equal to everyone else. The law has to treat all of us the same.
► Nobody is allowed to discriminate against you, for any reason – your race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language, birth, or anything else.

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10 DIGNITY
► You have dignity as a human being.
► You have the right to have your dignity respected and protected.

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11 LIFE
► Nobody is allowed to take the life of any other human being – not other people, and not the government.

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12 free safe
► You have the right to be free and secure in yourself.
► Nobody is allowed to take your freedom away without a real, legal reason.
► Nobody can put you in prison without a trial.
► You have the right to always be safe from violence. Nobody is allowed to commit acts of violence against you.
► Nobody is allowed to torture you, or cause you physical pain, or treat you like you are not a human being.
► Only you have the right to make decisions about your own body. Nobody is allowed to do anything to your body that you don’t want them to do.
► You have the right to make your own decisions about reproductive health, birth control, having babies, and medical care.

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13 slavery labour
► Nobody is allowed to make you a slave.
► Nobody is allowed to force you to be their servant.
► Nobody is allowed to force you to do labour or any other work.

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14 privacy
► You have the right to be as private as you want to be.
► Nobody is allowed to search you, or search your home, or search anything you own.
► Nobody is allowed take your belongings away from you.
► Nobody is allowed to look at or listen to your private communications with other people. This includes your messages, your letters and your phone calls.

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15 religion
► You have the right to your own religion, and to practice your religion.
► You have the right to believe what you want.
► You have the right to your own opinions about anything.
► Nobody is allowed to force you to give up your religion or your beliefs. Nobody is allowed to tell you what to think.

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16 free expression
► You have the right to say what you want – in speech, in writing and in art.
► This right includes a free press. Newspapers, radio, TV and websites can also say what they want.
► You have the right to get any information you want.
► You have the right to tell other people your thoughts, knowledge and ideas.
BUT
► Nobody is allowed to use this right to harm other people.
► You are not allowed to say things that are not true, or say things that cause harm.
► You are not allowed to say things because you want to cause hatred for other people because of their race, ethnic background, sex or religion.
► You are not allowed to say things because you want to cause violence or war.

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17 gather protest
► You have the right to join other people to protest against things you think are wrong.
► You have the right to demonstrate.
► You have the right to picket outside your workplace.
► You have the right to present petitions.
BUT
► You must do this peacefully. You are not allowed to be violent. You are not allowed to carry weapons.

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18 association
► You are free to associate with – spend time with – anybody you want to.
► You can make friends, or do business, or form clubs, or do anything else, with anyone you choose.

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19 political
► You are free to form a political party, take part in a political party, recruit other people to join the party, and campaign for the party.
► You can also campaign for any other cause.
► If you are a citizen of South Africa, you have the right to free and fair elections for local government, provincial government and national government. These elections must be held regularly.
► If you are an adult citizen, you have the right to:
► Vote
► Keep your vote secret
► Stand as a candidate in elections
► Hold office, if you are elected

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20 citizenship
► If you are a citizen of South Africa, nobody is allowed to take that citizenship away from you.

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21 movement
► You have the right to freedom of movement.
► You have the right to leave South Africa.
► If you are a citizen, you have the right to enter South Africa from another country. You have the right to stay in South Africa. You also have the right to live anywhere in South Africa.
► If you are a citizen, you have the right to own a South African passport.

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22 choose work
► If you are a citizen of South Africa, you have the right to freely choose your own trade, occupation or profession.

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23 workplace
► You have the right to fairness in the workplace.
If you are a worker, you are allowed to:
► Form a trade union
► Join a trade union
► Take part in the activities of a trade union
► Strike
If you are an employer, you are allowed to:
► Form an employers’ organisation
► Join an employers’ organisation
► Take part in the activities of an employers’ organisation
Every trade union, employers’ organisation and employer has the right to take part in collective bargaining.

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24 environment
► You have the right to live in an environment that does not harm your health or wellbeing.
► You have the right to have the environment protected.

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25 property
► Nobody is allowed to take your property away from you.
► Sometimes laws will have to be passed that do allow property – such as land – to be taken away, but these laws have to have a very good reason. These reasons can include the public interest, or compensation for property stolen in the past.

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26 housing
► You have the right to a home, to a decent place to live.
► Nobody is allowed to throw you out of your home unless they have an order from a court.
► Nobody is allowed to demolish your home, unless they have an order from a court.

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27 healthcare food water
► You have the right to healthcare services. This right includes health services for birth control, pregnancy, childbirth and other reproductive healthcare.
► You have the right to emergency medical treatment.
► You have the right to enough food to keep you healthy.
► You have the right to water.
► You have the right to grants of money from the government, if you don’t have a job, or if you don’t earn enough to support yourself, or your children.

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28 children
► Every child has the right to a name.
► Every child has the right to be a citizen.
► Every child has a right to be cared for properly, by their parents or by their family.
► If a child doesn’t have family to care for them, the child has the right to proper care from other people.
► Every child has the right to good food, shelter, healthcare and social services.
► Every child has the right to be protected from bad treatment, neglect and abuse.
► Every child has the right to be protected from being made to work in a way that exploits them.
► Nobody is allowed to make a child work if the child is too young, or if the work will hurt the child in any way.
► Every child has the right to be free from war and other violence. Nobody is allowed to force children to fight in war. All children have the right to be protected from war.
► When any decision is made about any child, the best thing for that child is the most important consideration.

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29 education
► You have the right to a basic education. This includes adult basic education.
► You have the right to further education. The state must make further education, through reasonable measures, progressively available and accessible.
► You have the right to get an education in your own language – in government schools and colleges, if it is reasonably practical.

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30 language culture
► You have the right to use any language you want.
► You have the right to take part in any culture you choose.

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31 communities
If you are a member of a cultural community, or are part of a community united by a certain religion or language, you still have the right to:
► Enjoy whatever culture you want
► Practice any religion you want
► Speak any language you want
You also have the right to form, join and take part in any other cultural, religious and language-based groups – in fact, to join and take part in any organisation you choose.

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32 information
► You are allowed to get any information that will help you to protect your rights.
► You have the right to access any information held by the state.
► If anyone else has information that will help you exercise your rights, or protect your rights, you have a right to that information as well.

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33 administrative action
► State administrators must provide the services that are your right, in a legal, reasonable and fair way.

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34 law
► You have the right to have any legal disagreement resolved, in a fair public hearing in a court, or by another independent decision-making body.

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35 arrested
If you are arrested for allegedly committing a crime you have the right:
► To stay silent and not say anything
► To be told that they have the right to remain silent
► To be told of the consequences of not staying silent
You also have the right not to be forced to confess to anything. Nobody can force you to say anything that can be used as evidence against you.
People who are arrested, detained or accused of a crime have more rights, which everyone should know about:

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36 limits
► You have rights. But so does everyone else. Your rights must never stop other people from enjoying their rights.
► The only rights that are not limited are the right to life, and the right to human dignity.

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37 emergencies
► Your rights can be limited when there is a major crisis in the country – a state of emergency. This is called the “derogation of rights” – when individual rights become less important than everyone’s right to survive the emergency.
► A state of emergency is declared when the life of the nation is threatened.
► This threat can be caused by a natural disaster, war, invasion by another country, or widespread uprisings and disorder.
► Even in a state of emergency, you still have the right to life, and the right to human dignity.

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38 downloads

The Bill of Rights

Download the Bill of Rights in English

The Basic Provisions of the Constitution

Download in your language
The first three parts of our Constitution are known as its Basic Provisions. The Preamble, the Founding Provisions, and the Bill of Rights explain the core values that define a free and democratic South Africa.
► The Preamble to the Constitution is a statement of South Africa’s past pain, and our common vision for a brighter future.
Chapter 1 of the Constitution is the Founding Provisions. This explains the important ideas that form the rock on we have built our Constitution.
Chapter 2 of the Constitution is the Bill of Rights. This list of rights, which all people share, defends our freedom, equality and humanity.
Download the Basic Provisions of the Constitution, in your language:
Afrikaans – Constitution Basic Provisions
English – Constitution Basic Provisions
isiNdebele – Constitution Basic Provisions
isiXhosa – Constitution Basic Provisions
isiZulu – Constitution Basic Provisions
Sepedi – Constitution Basic Provisions
Sesotho – Constitution Basic Provisions
Setswana – Constitution Basic Provisions
Siswati – Constitution Basic Provisions
Tshivenda – Constitution Basic Provisions
Xitsonga – Constitution Basic Provisions

The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa

Download the full text of the Constitution, in your language:
Afrikaans – Constitution full text
English – Constitution full text
isiNdebele – Constitution full text
isiXhosa – Constitution full text
isiZulu – Constitution full text
Sepedi – Constitution full text
Sesotho – Constitution full text
Setswana – Constitution full text
Siswati – Constitution full text
Tshivenda – Constitution full text
Xitsonga – Constitution full text

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Researched, edited and compiled by Mary Alexander.

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