South Africa enacts anti-hate law, three decades post-apartheid

The regulation, however, “excludes from the realm of hate speech” those actions carried out “in good faith” and in the course of artistic expression, academic research, journalistic reporting of public interest, or the adoption of a religious belief or doctrine

President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa.
President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa. Photo courtesy: en.kremlin.ru

Thirty years after the end of the apartheid segregation system, South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa endorsed a law targeting hate speech and hate crimes, the South African Presidency announced this Thursday.

It was in 1994, in Inanda, that Nelson Mandela cast his vote for the first time ever. After casting his ballot, Mandela proceeded to the nearby grave of John Dube, the inaugural president of his party, the African National Congress (ANC). “I come to report to you, Mr. President,” he declared in his resonant voice, “that South Africa is now free.”

Three decades later, the elections on May 29th will be open and fair. Yet, as South Africans gear up to vote, they do so with a sense of disillusionment. The Economist reported that only 29% of the populace believes their lives will improve in the next five years, and since around 2010, fewer South Africans feel that racial relations are better now than they were in 1994.

Aiming to halt all forms of racist violence, the new statute “outlaws hate crimes and hate speech” and authorizes the prosecution of those who commit such acts, thereby “fulfilling South Africa’s obligations under the Constitution and international human rights instruments concerning racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related forms of intolerance,” a statement noted.

Until now, individuals accused of racism were prosecuted under the country’s ‘crimen injuria’ offense, which pertains to the violation of a person’s dignity or privacy.

The new legislation echoes the Bill of Rights enshrined in Section 9 of the South African constitution, which forbids any direct or indirect discrimination based on race, gender, sex, social and ethnic origin, religion, sexual orientation, and other statuses, the Presidency emphasized.

“The Bill of Rights grants everyone the right to dignity and bestows upon all the right to freedom and personal security, which includes the right to be free from all forms of violence, whether from public or private sources,” it added.

However, the regulation “excludes from the realm of hate speech” those actions carried out “in good faith” and in the course of artistic expression, academic research, journalistic reporting of public interest, or the adoption of a religious belief or doctrine “that does not promote hatred or constitute an incitement to cause harm.”

Moreover, the law ratified by Ramaphosa promotes the training of the South African Police and Prosecution services to ensure these offenses are adjudicated properly.

Although South Africa’s black and mixed-race population was already under colonial rule by the white minority earlier, the laws that established the apartheid segregation system began in 1948, turning South Africa into one of the world’s most brutal and racist regimes. The dismantling of racial segregation did not start until the 1990s.

Presently, according to the World Bank, South Africa is the most unequal country globally, and racial disparities are the primary cause of income inequality, although gender also plays a significant role, with women earning wages 38% lower than men.

The Economist highlighted that researchers from the South African Social Attitudes Survey (SASAS) indicated that last year’s survey recorded the highest levels of ambivalence about whether democracy was preferable to autocracy. Additionally, a pan-African pollster noted that 72% would stop voting if an unelected government could guarantee employment, security, and housing.

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