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Op-eds

Masuko Equality Court outcome shows system is working

  • Jeff
As has been more fully reported on elsewhere in this issue, the Equality Court last week upheld a ruling by the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) that Cosatu International Relations spokesman, Bongani Masuku, had been guilty of making anti-Semitic and threatening statements against the Jewish community and directing him to apologise unconditionally for this.
by JEFF KATZ | Jul 06, 2017

The court found Masuku’s statements to be “hurtful, harmful, [to] incite harm, and propagate hatred, and amount to hate speech”.

The case had its origins in a formal complaint lodged by the SAJBD against Masuku in March 2009. This followed a series of abusive, as well as threatening, comments made by Masuku, in written communications and on a public speaking platform at Wits University.

In its ruling, issued in December 2009, the SAHRC upheld the Board’s complaint, observing that the impugned statements were “of an extreme nature that advocate and imply that the Jewish and Israeli community are to be despised, scorned, ridiculed and therefore subjecting them to ill-treatment on the basis of their religious affiliation”.

Had Masuku complied with the ruling that he apologise for his remarks that would have been the end of the matter. Instead, Masuku, with his organisation’s backing, refused to do so, with the result that the SAHRC eventually decided to approach the Equality Court to get its ruling enforced.

The case was heard in the Johannesburg High Court, acting in this matter as an Equality Court, with the SAJBD providing whatever assistance it could to the SAHRC’s legal team as and when required.  

From the Board’s point of view, the outcome has vindicated our decision to take up this matter and do whatever was necessary to follow it through. In addition to bringing this particular case to a satisfactory resolution, what the whole experience has demonstrated is that the system put in place to protect citizens from hate speech and threats (including by political leaders) is working.

The process may often take time, but sooner or later, those guilty of infringing our community’s rights, will be made to answer for it. The SAHRC has dealt with this particular matter in an exemplary manner throughout, doing everything necessary to follow through despite the other side’s delaying tactics and general unwillingness to co-operate or respect its decisions. 

In its press statement, the Board observed that what emerged from the judgement was that threats and insults against Jews who support Israel, cannot be justified on the alleged basis that such attacks were aimed not at Jews but at “Zionists”.

The broader implications for South African law is that it is unacceptable to incite hatred and/or harm against a particular group, whether defined by ethnicity, religion, nationality or other such grounds, by using different terminology to refer to them when a reasonable person would understand who in reality was being targeted.

The case has further confirmed our community’s right to identify with and where desired to speak out on behalf of Israel without being subjected to threats and intimidation. It is hoped that Masuku will comply with the court’s decision that he apologise, thereby bringing this matter to finality and allowing all the parties to move on.

 

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