AfriForum announced during a conference today that the civil rights organisation has tendered a written submission to the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development regarding the Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill. AfriForum also launched a public participation campaign to take a stand against the Bill and to enable the organisation to deliver an oral submission to Parliament regarding freedom of speech, hate speech and racism. For this purpose, the public is encouraged to sign the petition at www.hatespeech.co.za.
AfriForum’s objections to the Bill as drafted by Adv. Mark Oppenheimer, free speech expert, includes that the language in the Bill significantly differs from that in the Constitution. The constitutional standard regarding hate speech is that of freedom of speech that does not extend to the advocacy of hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion, and which does not constitute incitement to cause harm.
According to the Bill, however, the mere propagation of hatred or harm is sufficient for speech to be regarded as hate speech. Another problem is that “harm” is defined in the Bill as including emotional harm and social harm. Furthermore, the grounds on which hate speech can be committed according to the Bill is too far-reaching and includes age, for example. The consequence is that mocking someone based on their age (such as calling someone an “old fart”) could amount to a criminal offense punishable by three years in jail.
AfriForum’s position is that speech can only be hate speech if it contains a direct call for action to be taken against a person or group of persons, based on the four grounds listed in the Constitution (race, ethnicity, gender or religion).
Ernst Roets, Deputy CEO of AfriForum, says that AfriForum is committed to the principle of freedom of speech and that the organisation is also in favour of legislation regarding hate speech in the South African context. “The challenge is to find a healthy balance between encouraging free speech and combating hate speech. We believe that the Bill will fail miserably in this, as it suggests that mere offensive speech should be regarded as hate speech. This is a violation of the principle of free speech.”
AfriForum intends to make an oral presentation to Parliament regarding the current state of racism in South Africa and the responsible way to deal with hate speech while protecting the right to freedom of speech.