Racism, hate speech, witch hunts, and rapid responses
"South Africa has been a guiding light in the world in conquering racism." Surprising though it seems, there is truth in this statement by the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development.
The United States, which was happy to preach to South Africa, now seems to be experiencing greater polarisation along racial lines. Many European countries, which were also happy to lecture us, have long found it difficult to accommodate ethnic minorities.
Many people assumed South Africa would not change without racial war. We did. Most of our worst racial laws were repealed by the party that had enacted them. The handover of power by the National Party (NP) to the African National Congress (ANC) in 1994 was dignified and orderly. Surveys show that most South Africans are relaxed about race relations. We have just had an election in which most whites voted for a party with a black leader.
So why does the department need to establish a "national monitoring and reporting centre", an "early warning system", and a "rapid response mechanism" to combat racism? Why is the deputy minister of justice and constitutional development, John Jeffery, busy with a "hate crimes bill" to create an offence of hate speech?
The deadline for comment on the department's proposals is 31st August. Mr Jeffery says his bill has been delayed by the need to reconcile the criminalisation of hate speech with the constitutional right of freedom of expression. This right does not protect "incitement of imminent violence" or advocacy of hatred based on race, ethnicity, sex, or religion where such advocacy "constitutes incitement to cause harm".