Analysis: ‘Charges might not stick to latest k-word twit’
Despite his obnoxious remarks, lawyers say there are serious obstacles to going the crimen injuria route
As outrage mounted against Johannesburg businessman Adam Catzavelos for his use of the k-word and his shameless racism, lawyers say it will be very difficult to make criminal charges stick.
In a video‚ Catzavelos, 39, uses the k-word to celebrate the fact that no black people were present on the beach he was on. The leaked video, which was sent to a WhatsApp group, went viral on Tuesday night. The saga led to many angry statements by parties and businesses linked to his company.St John’s College, where his children are pupils, condemned it. Catzavelos’s family sent out two statements to say he had been fired as a director of the family steak sauce company, and his shares in the restaurant business had been removed.Nedbank, which provided support to his business in a competition in 2014, distanced itself, as did the Federation of the Hellenic Society in Johannesburg. Catzavelos is Greek.
The Baron Restaurant Group said its steaks would be served without basting while it looked for a new supplier.
The Economic Freedom Fighters laid criminal charges against Catzavelos and the SA Human Rights Commission said it was conducting a probe. Lawyer and social media activist Tumi Sole has laid a complaint with the commission.Advocate Mark Oppenheimer told Times Select that prosecuting Catzavelos for crimen injuria would be challenging.
“Crimen Injuria is the unlawful, intentional and serious impairment of a person's dignity. Should the NPA decide to prosecute Catzavelos for his statement, there will be two hurdles to overcome:
“First, it must be proven that he intended to impair someone’s dignity. This may be difficult because his words were aimed at his friends in a private message, not at someone he was intending to demean.“Secondly, his words are offensive to all South Africans, particularly black South Africans, but unlike the case of Vicki Momberg, they are not aimed at a particular individual [as is required].”
Momberg was sentenced this year to an effective two years in prison by the Randburg Magistrate’s Court for her racist tirade at a traffic officer in 2016.
Verlie Oosthuizen, social media lawyer at law firm Shepstone and Wylie, said she could not see how Catzavelos would be criminally charged, although she understood the video was very offensive.“Crimen injuria needs to be directed at someone. His comments were not directed at anyone in particular.”
Oosthuizen explained that in the case of Momberg, who was found guilty of crimen injuria, she used the k-word to address a metro police officer.
Responding to the outrage on Twitter, Oosthuizen said those who directed threats and harassment at Catzavelos could be charged with crimen injuria and trying to impair his dignity.
“You don’t want to be in a situation where the person who said the revolting thing has more of a case of crimen injuria against people harassing him.”
She urged people on social media to let the law take its course rather than call for him to be harmed, his house to be attacked, his land to be expropriated and his wife to be fired from her job at Nike.
Wits gender researcher Lisa Vetten said calling for Catzavelos’s wife to be fired and for a boycott of Nike goods was “an archaic idea that women are an extension of their husbands”.“If a rapist is on trial, his wife won’t be in the dock too. This seems to reflect an old idea that women don’t have separate thoughts, separate identities and separate lives from their husbands.”
The shoe brand closed some of its stores in SA on Wednesday after EFF politicians threatened to trash them.
Nike distanced itself from the video.
Brand expert Sarah Britten said targeting spouses for their partners’ actions was a “slippery slope”.
“It is unfair to expect wives or husbands (or girlfriends or boyfriends) to be responsible for what their partners do or say. I know of couples who disagree with each other on a range of topics. Does marrying someone now mean you are clones of one another, echoing all of their views uncritically? If that was the case, it would be better for us all to be single.”