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Hate speech Bill divides experts

Publish date: 13 February 2017
Issue Number: 714
Diary: IBA Legalbrief Africa
Category: South Africa

As opposition regarding the proposed Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill mounts, constitutional law experts have dissenting views regarding the Bill’s constitutionality. Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane slammed the Bill last week, reportedly telling The Star that it did not find the balance between curtailing hate speech and promoting the constitutionally enshrined freedom of expression. ‘A religious leader might stand up in a meeting of whatever kind and make a statement, and if someone takes that statement to be offensive – whether they feel prejudiced because of sexual orientation – the Bill will find against that person. That limits not only the right to freedom of expression, but also the right for (religious) practice and publication of media,’ Maimane said. But UCT’s Professor Pierre de Vos rebutted Maimane’s views, saying that the Bill sought to deal with the problem between freedom of religion and the demands of dignity. ‘I think that our courts have not been very good at confronting this problem, that there is a direct clash between freedom of religion and the right to equality and dignity. There is clearly some harm that results from speech that vilifies people – it sends a message that some of us are not fully human,’ De Vos contended. Resident attorney at the Centre for Constitutional Rights, Christine Botha, said that her organisation believed that the Department of Justice’s inclusion of hate speech as a crime was a reaction to highly publicised social media incidents, against which the department wants very much to be seen to be taking ‘swift action’.

Full report in The Star (subscription needed)