No, it’s not OK to call Indians the c-word, court tells hate speech duo
Equality Court magistrate throws the book at pair for their anti-Indian comments made in 2014
Two members of the KwaZulu-Natal African-consciousness pressure group, the Mazibuye African Forum, have been found guilty of hate speech for “anti-Indian” comments they made in articles and interviews.
Zweli Sangweni, the head of the organisation, and Phumulani Mfeka, who has subsequently resigned from it, claimed they were “fearless truth tellers and crusaders on a mission to expose and speak the truth to power, on behalf of their constituency”.
They did not deny making the statements – to the effect that Indians, including Mahatma Gandhi, were racist and were responsible for exploiting Africans and for their poor economic conditions – stating that they were just “telling the truth”.
But Durban Equality Court magistrate John Sanders, in a lengthy judgment handed down this week, largely found against them.
The matter came before him after complaints by the SA Human Rights Commission and the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation in 2014.
The main witness for the complainants was commission chairperson Bongani Majola who said hate speech was so serious – and had been the trigger for the Rwandan genocide – that it must never be allowed to fester or go unchallenged.
While acknowledging past animosity between Indian and black people, he said the “winds of change” had since blown over SA and their utterances were deemed unacceptable.
Hate speech, he said, only added the proverbial fuel to the fire, rather than resolve any issues that might genuinely exist.
Sangweni, who used the c-word in one of his statements, denied knowing what it meant.
He claimed he did not hate Indians and the statements had constituted “warnings” rather than threats.
Sanders said no one could ignore laws on the basis that they disagreed with them.
“Hate speech is not constitutionally protected, precisely because it strikes at the heart of human dignity, equality and freedom, and has the potential to impinge adversely on the dignity of others and to cause harm.”
He ruled that one comment, while it may be hurtful to some, did not “contain the vital element of incitement to cause harm”.
But he found that three others hit that mark.
In one, the organisation said (of an Indian mayor): “Your attitude reminds us of the very same attitude that the super racist Gandhi had towards Africans. His existence, as with many other Indians of the Indian Congress, in itself was an offence to Africans.”
The magistrate said there was absolutely no doubt that the letter exuded racial overtones.
“By any yardstick, the sentence quoted above constitutes the clearest example of racism and hate speech that one may wish to find; when the mere existence of a people, as a people, becomes offensive to others, purely on the basis of their race,” he said.
The magistrate said another comment – that the forum wanted to remind Indians that their wealth was highly contaminated and that they were morally obliged to make serious socio-economic contributions and concessions to the African people in the interests of justice – was “all encompassing and made no exceptions”.
“No real respecter of truth would dare to deny that Ahmed Kathrada, to name one of many examples, was an Indian person, who suffered greatly and made huge personal sacrifices to advance the cause of black liberation, and who fought against everything that apartheid stood for the duration of his entire life,” Sanders said.
“But the Ahmed Kathradas of this world, and other Indians like him, simply have no place in the narrative or so-called ‘truth’ that the respondents are singularly committed to advancing.”
Regarding Sangweni’s defence of using the c-word – that he was merely using a direct quote of Dr J. Dube – the magistrate said acceptance of this argument would lead to the absurd position “where racists would simply find as many old quotes, containing both the k-word and/or the c-word and publish them with impunity, safe behind their self-created smokescreen of literary rules”.
As a first-language Zulu speaker, the magistrate also dismissed Sangweni and Mfeka’s suggestion that a Zulu “idiom” used in one of their articles was not a threat.
The magistrate adjourned the matter to later this month to consider what sanction should be imposed.