The Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, commends the National Assembly of South Africa for passing the Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill (Bill) on 15 March 2023. This legislation marks a significant step towards the protection of all South Africans against hate crimes and hate speech, particularly those based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or any other form of discrimination.
The Bill passed by the National Assembly will become law once it has also been passed by the National Council of Provinces, and then signed by the President. The Centre calls for these processes to be accelerated.
The Centre for Human Rights has been actively engaged in advocacy for the protection and promotion of the right to equality and dignity for all as well as condemning hate crimes and hate speech. The Bill is welcomed as an important recognition of the ongoing struggle against intolerance, discrimination, and prejudice in our society by establishing a comprehensive framework for preventing and combating hate crimes and hate speech.
The Centre for Human Rights notes the origins of the Bill in the Bill of Rights provisions of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa and commends its intent to address frequently occurring and, often, violent conduct motivated by clear and defined prejudices. In this vein, section 3 of the Bill defines a hate crime as an offence committed where the offender is motivated by prejudice or intolerance towards the victim of the crime because of specified characteristics or perceived characteristics of the victim or another person associated with the victim.
Characteristics listed as grounds that could constitute a hate crime include age; albinism; birth; colour; culture; disability; ethnic or social origin; gender or gender identity; HIV status; language; nationality, migrant or refugee status; occupation or trade; political affiliation or conviction; race; religion; sex, which includes intersex; or sexual orientation.
Regarding hate speech, the 2021 Constitutional Court judgment in the Qwelane case had provided clarity on the hate speech segment of the Bill, a provision which had garnered much opposition over the years. Hate speech, as defined in the Qwelane judgment, is ‘any expression that has the effect of violating the rights of another person or group of people on the basis of group identity’. Section 4 of the Bill goes on to define hate speech to include intentionally publishing, propagating or advocating anything that could reasonably be construed to demonstrate a clear intention to be harmful or to incite harm; or promote or propagate hatred, based on one or more of the specified characteristics.
The Bill also includes provisions that strengthen the criminal justice system's response to hate crimes, including ensuring more accountability for perpetrators, specifying measures to facilitate the reporting and investigation of such crimes, and providing for mandatory ministerial reporting on the implementation of the Bill.
These provisions, when implemented properly, will be a significant contribution to the fight against hate crimes and hate speech in South Africa and will send a clear message that discriminatory behaviour will not be tolerated in South African society. We urge the President to sign this legislation into law without delay and we call on all South Africans to support its implementation and enforcement.
We remain committed to working with all stakeholders and civil society to ensure that South Africa is a society that promotes and protects human rights, equality, and dignity for all.
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