The issue of ‘hate speech’ has become a hot topic once again in South Africa, with Vicki Momberg becoming the first individual to be convicted for racism, and sentenced to imprisonment in South Africa’s Constitutional democracy.
Government is also in the process of ushering in the ‘The Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill’, which is likely to have a direct impact not only on individuals but also entire businesses, says Nicholas Preston Director of Employment practice at Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr.
“The bill (once adopted) aims to formally criminalise the common law position around hate crimes and hate speech, and regrettably a number of these incidents still take place in the workplace, making employees susceptible to not only disciplinary and civil action, but now criminal prosecution too,” said Preston.
“Briefly, s4(1)(a) of the proposed bill seeks to provide wide protection that will apply to any communication that is threatening, abusive or insulting towards any other person or group of persons.”
“The penalties, if convicted under the bill (and once passed), currently include a fine or imprisonment and, as such, employers should take positive steps to educate its employees in order to avoid any such occurrences and the negative publicity that may follow this developing area of law,” he said.
Other proactive steps may include updating existing disciplinary codes, grievance procedures, as well as social media and acceptable behaviour policies in the workplace, added Preston.
The bill is currently being introduced into the National Assembly and will be followed by public invitations for submissions and comment.