It is necessary to introduce legislation against hate speech, but in its current form, the Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill fails in its purpose.
This is the view of William Bird, director of Media Monitoring Africa.
The department of justice and correctional services has extended the deadline for the public to comment on the bill from December 1 to January 31.
Bird said his organisation would submit its comments on the bill.
He urged people to support the bill, but also to make contributions to improve it.
He said that, given South Africa’s history and recent developments – such as the one currently before the Middelburg Magistrates’ Court, in which two white men put a black man in a coffin – it “makes sense for government to act and introduce a bill of this nature”.
“That said, the way it is formulated is too broad.”
For instance, in terms of the bill in its current form, the definition of hate speech will make it impossible to make jokes of any occupations or trades.
Satire will also be unlawful.
Freedom of Religion South Africa (For SA) asked for the deadline to be extended until March 1 because the upcoming holiday period and the “logistics for faith-based groups to consult their members” make it difficult to formulate a substantive response to the bill.
The organisation, which acts on behalf of 69 denominations, says that the apparent intent of the bill is to combat racism and xenophobia, but the broad definition of hate speech could have a serious effect on freedom of speech and, in particular, on freedom of religion.
“Given that this law has the potential to adversely affect the entire faith community of South Africa, the time frame given for comment is simply inadequate for the level of consultation that needs to take place within individual churches, denominations and religious groups before appropriate and informed comments can be made,” said For SA director Michael Swain.
When the department announced the postponement, it said that it was important to allow enough time for the bill, so that when it became law it would reflect the “collective wisdom of the country”.
“The bill creates the offences of hate crimes and hate speech and seeks to put in place measures to prevent and combat these offences,” said Mthunzi Mhaga, spokesperson for the ministry of justice and correctional services.
A hate crime is committed if a person commits any recognised offence, that is a common law or statutory offence (referred to as the “base crime or offence”) and the commission of that offence is motivated by unlawful bias, prejudice or intolerance.
The bill can be read here.