We are reaping commission’s failure to act on hate speech
THE Afrikanerbond rejects any form of racism, whether by word or deed. This applies equally to black and white racism, discrimination and xenophobia, be it Velaphi Khumalo with his Facebook entry in which he called for SA to be cleansed of white people in the same way as "Hitler did to the Jews", or Penny Sparrow, who compared black people on the beach to monkeys.
SA can ill afford these comments as we are still a deeply divided society.
Unfortunately, the public discourse has been polluted in recent years with heated pronouncements by political leaders and members of the executive for the sake of political expediency. This behaviour has been allowed to continue without repercussion and has set the tone that has now spilled over to social media.
At issue is the role and mandate of the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC). This institution is supposed to act as the custodian of the Bill of Rights as contained in the Constitution and derives its mandate from Section 184, which states that it must "promote respect for human rights and a culture of human rights; promote the protection, development and attainment of human rights; and must monitor and assess the observance of human rights in the Republic." No public representative or political party leader is exempt.
Racism and hate speech are not new in the democratic SA. On August 16 2006, SA compiled a report for the United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The committee responded with a number of recommendations and expressed concern at the frequency of hate speech and hate crimes in SA, and the ineffective handling thereof. This situation has not changed since.
This ineffectiveness in dealing with racism and hate speech was also recognised in the functioning of the institutions meant to deal with it.
The late Prof Kader Asmal, in his 2007 report on Chapter 9 institutions, pointed to serious deficiencies in these statutory bodies. However, Parliament buried the Asmal report and it was never considered or, to the best of our knowledge, acted upon.
The acknowledgment by former HRC chairman Jody Kollapen that it had insufficient powers to act against people who violated the Constitution or breached the stipulations therein was and remains cause for grave concern.
The SAHRC and other Chapter 9 institutions are "independent and subject only to the Constitution and the law, and they must be impartial and must exercise their powers and perform their functions without fear, favour or prejudice".
Sadly, the example set by some political leaders and members of the executive has been shameful. It is these leaders and public representatives who have tainted our public space with ill-considered statements, barely disguised racism and incitement. Yet it has become abundantly clear that the cadres of the governing party receive special treatment, with favour and prejudice.
We believed the SAHRC was the one institution that would act against racism and accusations of racism and discrimination from any source. Yet the Afrikanerbond has lodged several complaints against African National Congress (ANC) members and public representatives without any concrete action being taken.
We thought it would be of extreme importance for the SAHRC to set a precedent on hate speech and language that could incite violence, especially when perpetrated by politicians. But it has failed to do so.
• On August 22 2008, we lodged a complaint against former minister in the Presidency Essop Pahad, who said in Beijing that "white South Africans would like to see the 2010 Soccer World Cup flop". This complaint was not acted upon, with the SAHRC stating that "the minister made these utterances while in Beijing … and the SAHRC has no jurisdiction in matters arising outside the republic". What a feeble excuse.
• The Afrikanerbond and more than 500 others lodged various complaints against Julius Malema when he was leader of the ANC Youth League, based on public statements he made after 2009, most notably the "shoot the Boer" struggle song. The SAHRC was initially reluctant to act and only called a hearing after being approached repeatedly. The hearing eventually started on November 28 2012 after a lengthy postponement, but almost immediately, the commission asked that it be postponed again until after an appeal by the ANC and Malema against an Equality Court ruling against Malema. This appeal was settled on October 31 2012 through mediation, but the SAHRC hearing was never resumed despite numerous letters from the Afrikanerbond.
• In September 2012, we lodged a complaint against ANC MP and Contralesa president Phathekile Holomisa following his call for land to be taken from the white minority the following year. This too has come to naught at the SAHRC.
• In February 2013, the Afrikanerbond lodged a complaint against former minister for women, children and people with disabilities Lulu Xingwana for her remarks on Australian television channel ABC that "young Afrikaner men are brought up in the Calvinist religion believing that they own a woman, they own a child, they own everything and therefore they can take that life because they own it". The SAHRC met Xingwana on June 14 2013 and accepted a feeble apology. This differed greatly from the actions by the SAHRC in 2012, when Jessica Leandra Dos Santos and Tshidi Thamana were obliged to make a "public apology to the complainants, the commission and the public" and participate in remedial programmes as recommended by the commission, after comments they made on Twitter were found to be hate speech.
The SAHRC has clearly demonstrated in the past few years that it is either unable or unwilling to fulfil its constitutional duties and enforce human rights for all. Politically favoured individuals have been allowed to toy with it, and it is apparent that the commission considers the rights of some to be more important than others.
The one institution that could have called public representatives to order has failed to do so, and we are now seeing the result in civil society through misbehaviour on social media.
• Schoeman is chairman of the Afrikanerbond