AfriForum rejects proposed Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill
23 September 2021
The civil rights organisation AfriForum will make a written submission to the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development regarding the proposed Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill. AfriForum will submit comments on a previous 2019 version of the Bill. This Bill appeared before the previous Parliament but lapsed. The Bill is now once again open for public commentary and will appear before Parliament again.
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 a group of persons, based on the four grounds listed in the Constitution: race, ethnicity, gender or religion. This Bill is going to hamper the fight against genuine hate speech, due to how it broadens the definition.
Ernst van Zyl, Campaign officer at 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 however 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.”