Quote of the week

An ‘important purpose of section 34 [of the Constitution] is to guarantee the protection of the judicial process to persons who have disputes that can be resolved by law’ and that the right of access to court is ‘foundational to the stability of an orderly society. It ensures the peaceful, regulated and institutionalised mechanisms to resolve disputes, without resorting to self-help. The right of access to court is a bulwark against vigilantism, and the chaos and anarchy which it causes. Construed in this context of the rule of law and the principle against self-help in particular, access to court is indeed of cardinal importance’.The right guaranteed s34 would be rendered meaningless if court orders could be ignored with impunity:the underlying purposes of the right — and particularly that of avoidance of self-help — would be undermined if litigants could decide which orders they wished to obey and which they wished to ignore.

Plasket AJ
Victoria Park Ratepayers' Association v Greyvenouw CC and others (511/03) [2003] ZAECHC 19 (11 April 2003)
13 December 2006

Hate speech on the internet

An interesting article in the Mail & Guardian discusses the issue of hate speech on online websites in the wake of an Internet discussion on Zimbabwe on the SABC news website. The discussion soon degenerated into hate speech. The site quotes a lawyer who says:

the constitutional definition of hate speech is very tight and that the context of the publication and the words used must be extreme and actively incite harm to be considered hate speech.

Of course, the definition of hate speech in the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair discrimination Act is much broader than in section 16(2). Nevertheless, the constitutional definition of hate speech is not nearly as broad as most people think.

Many people confuse hate speech with hurtful speech. It is not hate speech to be called racial names or to be called a “moffie“. What is required is something more, one needs utterances that “constitute incitement to cause harm” based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion. The harm that is to be incited does not have to constitute physical harm but it must at least constitute serious emotional harm.

And there must be “incitement”.

If one therefore merely says something hurtful to someone else, it will not constitute hate speech as defined in the Constitution. One has to say something that constitutes incitement to cause at least serious emotional harm to a person or a group.

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