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Voices

Pepuda and prejudice

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When the so-called Equality Act (the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act, or Pepuda) was passed back in 2000, it was a game-changer in terms of providing victims of prejudice with suitable delineated legal guidelines which they could rely on to seek redress.

Through its constitutional and legislation committee, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) made significant input into the Act at the time. Since then, we have relied on it, particularly those sections dealing with prohibited hate speech, for the majority of the antisemitism cases we have brought, whether to the South African Human Rights Commission, the Equality Courts, or regulatory bodies such as the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa.

A number of proposed amendments to Pepuda were announced and opened for public comment. The Board, in consultation with its legal advisors, local and international academics, and engagement with the justice department, has considered the amendments, and this week, put in a submission to the relevant portfolio committee. Our view is that the amendments essentially clarify various definitions and terms of reference within the existing Act rather than altering its main thrust to any significant degree. It is, however, likely that in the future, more substantive changes will be put forward, in the event of which we will again take up the matter and consider the aspects we need to take up.

Restorative versus punitive justice

When dealing with cases of offensive speech and/or behaviour, it’s always important to bear in mind the intent of the perpetrator. Sometimes, insensitivity or plain ignorance rather than outright malice is behind the offensive behaviour in question. Even when genuine malice is involved, moreover, we regard those responsible coming round to acknowledging and understanding what they did wrong and sincerely apologising for it (restorative justice) as preferable to them being formally punished (punitive justice). First prize is always to change hearts and minds.

A successful case of restorative justice that the Board was recently involved in concerned the multiple daubing of swastikas and other Nazi-themed imagery on school property by three pupils at a high school in Nigel. It’s noteworthy that the original complainant was a non-Jewish parent (there are no Jewish pupils at the school), showing as it does how the propagation of the Nazi ideology is regarded as unacceptable even by people outside our community. Last week, following extensive interaction with the school leadership, the pupils in question visited the Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre, where they were given a structured education tour by the staff. In a debriefing with SAJBD Gauteng Chairperson Professor Karen Milner, all three were open and willing to learn, and the sincere, insightful feedback about what they had learnt was very encouraging.

It would be remiss of me to conclude without commenting on the new COVID-19 restrictions. Gauteng remains the epicentre of the “third wave”, and we are receiving concerning reports from Hatzolah about the number of community members who are infected. I can but reiterate the critical need for people to abide strictly by all safety protocols, to remain at home where possible, and in general, do whatever they can to limit the risk of exposure.

  • Listen to Charisse Zeifert on Jewish Board Talk, 101.9 ChaiFM, every Friday from 12:00 to 13:00.

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