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OP-EDS

Taking an active role in our democracy

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SHAUN ZAGNOEV

The latest Make Us Count initiative commenced with a voter-registration drive, together with the distribution of the board’s input into the election manifestos of the main parties. Since then, we have begun to meet political leaders across the spectrum, and to plan the now traditional “great debates” between representatives of the main political parties that will be taking place in Johannesburg, Durban, and Cape Town. These events are primarily aimed at our own community, but they are open to everyone, and as in the past, we will bring the media on board as much as we can.

We have had an excellent response to our call for volunteers for the interfaith election observer team we are organising to assist the Independent Electoral Commission on polling day. This year’s team will be the largest yet.

The SAJBD and the Hate Crimes Bill

Active involvement in the country’s democratic culture goes beyond simply casting one’s vote. The post-apartheid dispensation offers a range of important mechanism through which civil society bodies, even individual citizens, can provide input into new legislation prior to it being tabled and debated in Parliament. From the outset, the board has availed itself of these opportunities, making submissions, written and oral, to a range of proposed new measures, particularly those relating to the prohibition of hate speech.

Earlier this month, we put in a submission on the Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill, a far-reaching new measure that has been the subject of much debate since it was first released for public comment in 2016. We have also been involved in drafting the submission of the Hate Crimes Working Group, where we are represented on the steering committee.

Among the recommendations we made is that the new law be framed so as to make it possible to implement it practically. Indeed, and as we illustrated by drawing on examples from our own experience, we have found the real problem not to be that existing legislation is inadequate, but that the institutions set up to deal with these issues are insufficiently resourced.

We also submitted representations on the problems of racism and hate speech on social media, and the ways in which these might be addressed. This being a submission on behalf of the Jewish community, a substantial section was devoted to unpacking the phenomenon of anti-Semitism, describing the different forms it takes, and pointing out some of the features that in many ways make it a unique form of prejudice, historically, and in our own time.

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

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