Justice and Constitutional Development Deputy Minister, John Jeffery, says although the Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill is not the sole answer to combatting racism, it goes a long way to penalise perpetrators.
He was speaking during a presentation on the bill at a meeting of the National Assembly’s Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services.
“This bill is not government’s attempt to the answer to racism in South Africa. Racism is a complex problem. We are not really going to resolve racism until we resolve the racial nature of poverty and power in South Africa.
“We did feel as government that it’s important to have penalties for racism and other intolerances. But it’s not meant to be the sole answer; it’s just one of the aspects,” he said.
The bill aims to provide for the offence of hate crime and the offence of hate speech, and the prosecution of persons who commit those offences and also aims to provide for appropriate sentences that may be imposed on persons who commit hate crime and hate speech offences.
Jeffery acknowledged that the bill has caused debate in the public sphere with some calling it a curtailment of freedom of speech.
“This is a controversial bill and its controversial particularly because of the hate speech provisions. I think the issue there is that it is a policy choice…should we have restrictions on speech or shouldn’t we?
“The Constitution already specifically…defines certain kinds of speech as not being part of freedom of expression. There is also the limitation clause which allows one to go further,” Jeffery said.
The Deputy Minister said public comments on the Bill had raised that there are already laws in place to deal with such matters and that these are “sufficient”.
“What we’ve got currently is PEPUDA [Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act] but PEPUDA is a civil remedy. It is dependent on the person aggrieved to go to the Equality Court to become a plaintiff and take the matter up themselves. Usually, the responsibility by the state in criminalising matters is that the state then takes responsibility for following up the crime that has been allegedly committed.
“We already have restrictions on speech as a crime which is crimen injuria. But crimen injuria is a common law crime.
“So what [this bill] is trying to do…it’s not trying to replace crimen injuria but it’s trying to set out a statutory crime of hate speech so that there’s greater clarity. There’s some confusion with crimen injuria… [on what would make] you guilty of crimen injuria. So the idea here was to have a new crime of hate speech,” he said.