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Chinese thank SA Jews for assisting in historic hate-speech case

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The South African Chinese community has expressed gratitude to the Jewish community for supporting it during a protracted hate-speech matter in which it emerged victorious last week.

After a five-year legal battle, The Chinese Association (TCA) last week won a landmark victory in the Equality Court, which ordered 10 people to apologise and pay damages for hate speech for comments posted on Facebook directed at the Chinese community.

A series of vile, hateful comments were posted on social media following a 2017 Carte Blanche documentary on gross animal cruelty in the treatment and inhumane slaughter of donkeys raised and killed for the donkey pelt market in China.

According to court papers, comments on Facebook included, “Why don’t these Chinese get the f**k away from our country seriously go skin your own people leave our donkeys alone you mfs”; “Can we stop these slant eyes freaks from coming into the country?”; “Vile, barbaric people. Is there a living thing left in China?”; “They are the most disgusting things on this earth!! I wish they would start wiping themselves out; this earth be better off without them”; and “We need to get rid of Chinese in sa…they not welcome, they steal our economy, dogs, Rhino and now donkeys.”

The hate-speech matter was finally wrapped up last Thursday, 28 July, with judgment by Judge Motsamai Makume carrying with it a strong message about the consequences of spreading hatred and discrimination on social media.

His ruling dealt with the Facebook posts of 12 people who were among the dozens who posted on Facebook in response to the Carte Blanche insert.

Makume quoted the Constitutional Court, saying, “Speech is powerful – it has the ability to build, promote, and nurture, but it can also denigrate, humiliate, and destroy. Hate speech is one of the most devastating modes of subverting the dignity and self-worth of human beings.”

He assessed each statement against the law, and determined that 10 of the utterances amounted to hate speech, saying the comments constituted hate speech, harassment, and unfair discrimination against people of the Chinese race, and contravened sections 10, 11, and 7 of the Equality Act.

The respondents were ordered to apologise and pay R50 000 to the Hong Ning Chinese Aged Home. One of the respondents was ordered to pay R150 000.

Jewish communal leadership lent its support, guidance, and knowledge to the Chinese community during the run-up to the trial.

A friendship was formed between the two minority communities at the beginning of COVID-19, when members of the Chinese community were being viciously maligned and discriminated against over the pandemic, which reportedly began in Wuhan, China, and shocked the world.

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) extended a hand of friendship at the time by calling on the Jewish community to show its solidarity against the irrational treatment of the Chinese community by shopping at Chinese markets in Bruma and Amalgam, Johannesburg, in preparation for Purim in 2020.

Erwin Pon, the chairperson of TCA, said at the time that the gesture had “brought back our faith in humanity”.

It was during this time that Wendy Kahn, the national director of the SAJBD became aware of the longstanding legal battle in the Equality Court.

“We were saddened to hear the awful comments made on social media directed at this minority community, so we informed them of the Hate Crimes Working Group and the important work being done in this area,” she told the SA Jewish Report. The Board kept abreast of the case, and continued to lend its support, she said.

Members of the Board were present during last week’s judgment.

Congratulating the TCA on the outcome, it said, “The SAJBD welcomes this important judgment, which represents another significant advance in the ongoing fight against racist hate speech and unfair discrimination in South Africa.

“As with the recently concluded [Jon] Qwelane and [Bongani] Masuku cases, our courts have sent out an unequivocal message that hate speech on the basis of people’s intrinsic identity, whether this concerns race, ethnicity, religion or other grounds, won’t be tolerated in our country.

“The SAJBD applauds the Chinese Association on taking up this important matter, and on pursuing it through to a successful conclusion.”

The judgment was hailed as historic by the Chinese community in that it was able to take a stand through the courts against hate speech and discrimination directed at a minority group of South Africans as well as Chinese nationals living in South Africa.

In a letter to the SAJBD last week, TCA said it was grateful for “the hand of friendship and support” given to the Chinese community.

In it, Pon, who was one of the main witnesses, said, “Not only have you provided us with words of support and encouragement, but through your actions in attending yesterday’s court case in person as well as arranging the visit to the China Mall at the start of COVID-19, you have truly extended and held the hand of friendship tightly with our community. For this we’ll forever be grateful.

“It has been a tough road for us [a road which I know too well that you as a Jewish community have unfortunately walked many times],” Pon said. “And at times, it can be extremely lonely and daunting. But during this tough and difficult time, we took solace in the fact that we weren’t alone. We took comfort that we had you beside us on the journey.”

The managing director of TCA, Ernie Lai King, thanked the Board for “walking with us”. In a letter to Kahn, he said, “A landmark day after a long journey which you and the SAJBD shared with us in the fight against prejudice and hate speech.” Pointing out that hate speech had been dealt a severe blow, he said, “No community in South Africa or the rest of the globe must suffer the crime of hate speech.”

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