While South Africans were not an oppressed minority, they could still be victims of hate speech, the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) said on Friday.
The commission was responding to allegations made by AfriForum in its latest complaint to the United Nations (UN), claiming that the SAHRC was complicit in widespread promotion and tolerance of hate speech against white people. The commission said not only was this not true, but black people were still the victims in most of the hate speech complaints they dealt with, specifically where other people were calling them the K-word.
The Afrikaner lobby group’s leader, Ernst Roets, told the UN during a sitting on global minority rights issues that white farmers were more likely to face killings and attacks following public incidences of hate speech.
Roets referred specifically to an incident last year in which Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema was accused of hate speech for singing Dubul’ ibhunu, an apartheid-era struggle song. The SAHRC found that these utterances did not meet the legal requirements of hate speech, which Roets told the UN commission was part of the problem.
But SAHRC chairperson Bongani Majola argued that from commission’s received complaints, the incidence of hate speech against black people through the use of the K- word remained the highest equality complaint received by the SAHRC for the last three years. These statistics indicated that the “crisis” – which was used by AfriForum – would be a term more apt for the black group than minorities.
“Socioeconomically, the white group remains privileged in South Africa, and largely enjoys far greater access to various rights such as education, adequate housing, and healthcare, than the black majority, which remains poor and thus socioeconomically vulnerable,” said Majola.
“The black majority continues to suffer from poverty and inequality, much of which is the persistent legacy of hundreds of years of colonialism and apartheid.”
Majola added that the Constitution compelled institutions to use this context when adjudicating on matters of hate speech.
Noting the commission’s 2019 Malema findings, Majola said the commission examined the context of the speech in which the statement was made, which he explained was central to Section 3 of the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act. Malema’s speech also addressed the highly emotive issue of land, noting that land was central to black identity, Majola said.
“The commission objectively determined that the statement meant that whereas peaceful black Africans were killed like animals by white colonists, Malema is not calling for the killing of white people now. What he is calling for is the peaceful occupation of land,” said Majola. He added that it was important Malema referred to white people’s historic and not current conduct, and that white colonists occupied indigenous land remains a fact.
Majola also said the commission instituted proceedings against a government employee, Velaphi Khumalo, who posted racial slurs against white people on social media in 2016.
‘Hate Speech’ leads to Farm Murders?
A large part of Roets’s argument to the UN relied on evidence he alleged that showed a correlation between comments against white people and that demographic being killed. Using five high profile incidences where white people or farmers were subjected to hate speech on public platforms, where it found an average 74.5% increase in farm murders following each of them. In the month following Malema’s contentious speech where he said he wasn’t calling for the slaughtering of white people “just yet’”, AfriForum claimed 12 farm murders were committed as opposed to the monthly average of 6,25 for that year. This constitutes an upward variance of 92% in farm murders. – no back up evidence.
Earlier this year, the DA – which won several municipalities and metros in the last election through coalitions with the EFF – took a stand on the farm issue by declaring farm murders a hate crime. Experts have struggled to find enough evidence to show correlation between the two.
In 2018, crime researcher at the Institute for Security Studies Johan Burger noted in a policy brief that there was a lack of data to correlate the claims that white Afrikaans farmers were being targeted by a racial agenda to kill people of this demographic. Data from the Transvaal Agricultural Union of South Africa (TAU SA) showed that in the 2017-2018 period, there were 33 farm murders out of 206 attacks and incidences, while official police stats showed there were 62 reported farm murders out of 561. The farm murders included attacks on farmworkers and black farmers.
Burger also cautioned in his brief that statistics from unofficial entities often varied, and their credibility was frequently questioned, making it difficult to accurately assess the extent of the problem of farm murders in South Africa. This, he said led to unsubstantiated claims such as that of genocide in South Africa – particularly against white, Afrikaans farmers.
According to the report on the 2003 Committee of Inquiry into Farm Attacks, between 1991 and 2001 there were 6122 attacks, resulting in 1254 deaths. It found that in 2001 alone there were 1011 farm attacks and 147 people were killed.
During the 2001 attacks, there were 1398 victims of various crimes including murder, rape, robbery, assault and others, of whom 61.6% were white, 33.3% black, 4.4% Asian and 0.7% coloured. Tau SA’s research between 1990 and 2017 also found that mostly white people were the victims of the farm murders they recorded. Of 1697 farm murders in this period, the group found that 87.6% were white 12.4% were black (241 in total of which 137 were farmworkers).