The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) presented its submission on the Prevention of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill to Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services today.
Judging from repeated incidents over the past few years, it is evident that South Africa is still grappling with the legacies of apartheid and colonialism. Many South Africans are still bearing the pains and effects of decades of enforced racism and hate crimes that have been committed against them and their families. We have witnessed all too often serious incidents of hate speech and hate crimes occurring in South Africa. Some of these include the sentencing of a KwaZulu-Natal resident who was found guilty of spewing racial hate speech on social media. In 2016, a community in Centurion mobilised against the construction of a Mosque and in 2010, white students at the University of the Free State pleaded guilty to crimen injuria after they urinated in the food of African cleaning staff.
The experience of Rwanda during the 1994 genocide is testimony that hate crimes and hate speech cannot be taken lightly. Whilst hate speech at times may be dismissed as the utterances of idiots best ignored, Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia, Germany and countless other countries have shown that this act can lead to hate crimes, violence, murder and genocide.
It is therefore critical that the correct balance is found. The Constitution enshrines the right to freedom of speech, thought and political association. It also places an obligation upon the state to protect ordinary persons from unfair discrimination. However, all rights are accompanied by responsibilities. While it is critical to protect ordinary citizens from hate speech, it is also important not to allow incompetent politicians use this to their advantage to hide their delinquencies.
The Bill provides this balance. It recognises that South Africa is a constitutional democracy that can be very robust at times, and necessarily so. It also recognises the need to provide protection for ordinary citizens from hate crimes and hate speech.
COSATU urges Parliament to pass this progressive Bill.
Issued by COSATU.
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