South Africa’s National Assembly has passed the Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill, a piece of legislation that seeks to clamp down on various forms of hate speech in the country. Introduced in 2018, the bill lapsed in 2019 before being revived. Its passing comes after the Constitutional Court judgments put the bill on hold. The government notes that an increasing number of incidents are motivated by prejudices and hate speech, and the bill aims to assist victims of such speech.
The bill aims to create the offenses of hate crimes and hate speech and prevent and combat these offenses. Several amendments have been made to the bill since its introduction, but it remains controversial. Critics are concerned about the broad and vague nature of the targeted characteristics and the channels through which hate speech can be communicated, leaving the laws open to abuse.
Hate speech, according to the new laws, will be defined as a clear intention to be harmful, incite harm, promote or propagate hatred based on various characteristics, including race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, belief, culture, language, and disability, among others. The bill also covers various channels through which these crimes could be committed, including social media and online communications.
Critics have highlighted the potential for the laws to be abused, particularly concerning the broad and vague nature of the targeted characteristics. Some critics claim that beliefs can be regarded as being in conflict with other protected characteristics, and the laws do not adequately address this issue. However, the bill exempts certain forms of communication from being regarded as hate speech, such as religious expression, provided that the speech does not advocate hatred that constitutes incitement to cause harm.
For the purposes of the laws, harm means “substantial emotional, psychological, physical, social, or economic detriment that objectively and severely undermines the human dignity of the targeted individual or groups.” The bill includes the need for a victim impact statement, indicating the extent of the harm caused by the alleged hate speech. The new laws define hate crimes and hate speech, with a hate crime being an offense recognized under any law, committed by a person motivated by their prejudice or intolerance towards the victim.
The bill has been opposed by various political parties, including the Democratic Alliance, the Freedom Front Plus, and the ACDP. These groups have argued that the regulations would limit freedom of speech and be abused by politicians. They claim that the bill addresses something that is already protected by the Constitution.