There appears to be double standards in South African society when it comes to issues of racism and hate speech, as most of the people who felt the backlash were white perpetrators, trade union Solidarity said on Thursday.
During a panel discussion hosted by the union in Pretoria, Solidarity argued, in a 38-page report, that the manner in which racism was dealt with in South Africa was selective.
"In cases where the transgressor was white, mainly racist abusive words were used. In other cases, generalisations were made about an entire race or culture, which then resulted in a negative opinion being formed on the race or culture in question," Solidarity’s Connie Mulder said.
The report was compiled by Mulder and Dr Eugene Brink.
It found that, in instances where black people were the perpetrators, racist abusive words occurred less frequently, however, there were clear elements of incitement to violence against minority groups, he said.
"Apart from this incitement… there is a definite element of incitement to violence, and in those cases where the transgressor was black, it was also stated bluntly that minorities should move off."
Mulder said this was worrying because, traditionally, minorities were defenceless against racial discrimination.
He said the South African government had obligations to protect minorities, in line with the Declaration of the Rights of Persons belonging to National, Ethnic, Religious and Language Minorities, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1992.
Part of the declaration reads: "States shall protect the existence and the national or ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic identity of minorities within their respective territories and shall encourage conditions for the promotion of that identity."
Media reaction criticised
He said, although racism was a worldwide phenomenon, it was clear that racial discrimination was still a problem in the country.
Part of the problem was also the manner in which the media reacted to these acts.
The report found that in cases where the transgressor was white, media coverage was "relatively extensive", whereas when the transgressor was black, the coverage followed "a more normal pattern of distribution".
In the top five cases where a white person had transgressed, each case was reported an average of 1 286 times by the media, Mulder said.
The top three stories reported on by the media where white people had transgressed were that of former estate agent Penny Sparrow, economist Chris Hart, and High Court Judge Mabel Jansen.
In December 2016, Sparrow described black beachgoers as monkeys in a post on Facebook.
After an uproar, Sparrow deleted the post and apologised, saying she did not mean it personally. She was taken to the Equality Court by the ANC and convicted of hate speech, and ordered to pay R150 000 to the Oliver & Adelaide Tambo Foundation.
The court then referred the matter to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) for a criminal prosecution. The Scottburgh Magistrate’s Court convicted her of crimen injuria and fined her R5 000 or 12 months imprisonment.
The second case study was former Standard Bank economist Chris Hart who had published a tweet which read: "More than 25 years after Apartheid ended, the victims are increasing along with a sense of entitlement and hatred towards minorities..."
After uproar from the public, he apologised, saying: "This tweet has caused offence – never intended for which I apologise wholeheartedly. Meant to be read in context of slow growth."
The report described the public’s outcry as "loud and harsh, and the consequences dire". According to the report, the media reported on Hart’s tweet 1 155 times in 2016 alone. Hart subsequently resigned from his position as a result.
In May 2016, there was a wave of criticism and anger against High Court Judge Mabel Jansen after excerpts of a private conversation she was having with social activist Gillian Schutte, where she said gang rapes of babies, daughters, and mothers were a pleasurable pastime for black men.
"In their culture a woman is there to pleasure them. Period. It is seen as an absolute right and a woman's consent is not required," she wrote.
Jansen said she was referring to specific cases and did not mean to generalise about black people as a group. She subsequently went on special leave while the JSC conducted an investigation into her comments.
'More focus on white transgressors'
She went before the Judicial Conduct Committee (JCC) in January 2017, and it was decided that her remarks constituted a prima facie case of "gross incompetence".
The JCC then recommended that the complaints be investigated and reported on by the Judicial Conduct Tribunal. The committee said it was concerned that, potentially at least, she could not be impartial when adjudicating cases involving a certain sector of society.
Sparrow’s case had attracted 4 501 media reports in 2016, Hart’s tweet had garnered 1 155 reports, and Jansen’s had attracted 840 that year.
When it came to case studies where black people were the transgressors, Solidarity’s report found that the top three transgressors, put together, did not garner the same amount of media coverage as the a case study with lowest number of media hits by a white transgressor.
"Black case studies follow a more normal pattern of distribution. Pronouncements by the President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, as well as the leader of the EFF, Julius Malema, receive much more media coverage than people on lower levels," Mulder said.
"In 2016, there were 117 and 163 media reports, respectively, on racist pronouncements made by Julius Malema and Jacob Zuma."
These findings were based on Zuma’s statements during the ANC’s 103rd birthday event in Cape Town in 2015, where he said Jan van Riebeeck’s arrival in South Africa was the beginning of all South Africa’s problems.
"According to him, Van Riebeeck’s arrival paved the way for racial discrimination," Mulder said.
Malema’s case involved a statement he had made in November 2016 outside the Newcastle Magistrate’s Court where he said: "We are not calling for the slaughter of white people‚ at least for now… The rightful owners of the land are black people. No white person is a rightful owner of the land here in SA and the whole of the African continent."
Solidarity said the media coverage of such statements was overwhelmingly one-sided.
"One would expect the pronouncements made by people in influential positions to receive more media coverage than those of ordinary members of the public, but this pattern is not followed at all."
Solidarity said, on top of this, little to no reprimanding was done on the part of the black transgressor versus the white transgressors, who had either lost their jobs of faced hefty penalties.
The report also accused the SA Human Rights Commission of being "asleep" and "unbalanced".
"From its own initiatives and reactions, it appears that the HRC is allowing the media and politicians to dictate to it what racial discrimination is.
"Despite the fact that the HRC should be trying to defuse racial tension and calm the stormy waters, [it] is indeed contributing to aggravating the situation by cracking down on white nobodies while allowing black somebodies to go scot-free," Mulder said.