- South Africa’s National Assembly passes bill to criminalize the problem of hate speech and hate crimes.
- The bill was introduced five years ago, and opposition parties are against it.
- Opposition parties have branded it an “anti-Afrikaner” bill, and that the bill will stifle freedom of speech and expression.
Since attaining independence in 1994, South Africa’s notion of being a ‘Rainbow Nation’ has always been obfuscated by the prevalence of what have been termed ‘hate speech and hate crimes’, stemming from a plethora of racist, classist, and religious societal fault lines.
In light of this, South Africa’s National Assembly has passed the Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill.
The legislative move has been widely hailed as a progressive step towards achieving an atmosphere of social, political, and economic cohesion — in a country where historical wounds remain unhealed, and where such continuities plague the overall development of the country.
The bill to criminalize hate speech and hate crimes was introduced five years ago, and was persistently derailed by opposition parties who perceive it as an impingement on freedom of speech.
Notwithstanding the marked contestations from the opposition parties, the bill has received overwhelming support in the South African Parliament.
Deputy Justice Minister John Jeffery pointed out that the existing legal framework for thwarting the ubiquity of hate speech and hate crimes is inadequate and had proven ineffective to this end.
For the last five years, South African opposition parties have been averse to the bill — and these include the Democratic Alliance (DA), Freedom Front Plus, African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) and Al Jama-ah.
They still maintain their opposition towards the criminalization of hate speech and hate crimes, alleging that the legislative move is an “anti-Afrikaner” law. They assert that the bill is solely targeted towards “specific” people.
Janho Engelbrecht, representing the DA, said that the bill — which has received immense support mainly from the African National Congress (ANC), which holds a majority in Parliament — was motivated more by an insidiious political agenda.
He remarked, “It will almost certainly have a chilling effect on freedom of speech and expression and will affect more vulnerable people, more seriously.”
However, Deputy Minister Jeffery reiterated this was not the case, pointing out that the opposition parties were majoring in “conspiracy theories”, and that legal remedies through civil law had proven to be woefully ineffective and scant.
“Despite what they may be doing to score political points in creating all sorts of conspiracy theories, I want to make it clear that the bill is not targeting any particular group of people. It applies to everyone equally, and it provides broader protection to everyone in society.”
South Africa’s opposition parties have always been accused of defending ultra-nationalist, right-wing, racist politics to the detriment of the black African majority masses in the country. It is thus hoped that this bill will ameliorate this nagging reality.
Others have claimed that the terms ‘hate speech’ and ‘hate crimes’ are very subjective, and that their interpretation might be prone to arbitrary whims. The question arising is, “who defines hate speech?”
For others, the fact that opposition parties have branded it an “anti-Afrikaner” bill gives rise to the question: “are Afrikaans people associated with hate speech and hate crimes?”