The South African Human Rights Commission has concluded its investigation into comments made by EFF leader Julius Malema, which was submitted to the commission on grounds of it being hate speech.
Malema made the comment in November 2016, speaking after the postponement of a court case against him.
In his speech he called for all land in South Africa to be returned to black people, adding that the party was not calling for the slaughter of white people, “at least for now”.
The full quote is as follows:
“…They found peaceful Africans here. They killed them. They slaughtered them like animals. We are not calling for the slaughtering of White people, at least for now. What we are calling for is the peaceful occupation of the land and we don’t owe anyone an apology for that…”
Malema’s remarks sparked outrage, and led to the FW de Klerk Foundation laying a complaint with the SAHRC, claiming that the comments amounted to hate speech and incitement of violence against white South Africans.
However, in its ruling, the SAHRC said that given the historical, social and factual context of the statement, Malema was in the clear.
According to the commission, in the lead up to the statement, Malema made an argument for occupying land on the basis that land belongs to black people. He stated that the black African masses own the land and that land is everything and without land you are nothing. He argued that land is part of Black identity.
“The historical context in which the statement is made is one of unjust land dispossession by white colonists and the apartheid government. Reference to the ‘slaughtering’ of people is first made in expressing an opinion as to the actions of colonialists,” said deputy chair of the SAHRC, Advocate Priscilla Jana.
“The social context in which the statement is made is one of continued landlessness, poverty and inequality, giving rise to anger and frustration by the black majority,” she said.
“The statement should thus be read, bearing in mind the Supreme Court of Appeal’s caution that vulnerable groups must be able to express anger and pain through robust speech.”
Jana added that the factual context of the statement shows that the subject of the statement was not perpetrating harm against white people, but the highly emotive and contested issue of land reform.
“The statement calls for the ‘peaceful’ occupation of land. Furthermore, Mr Malema explicitly states that he is not calling for the slaughter of white people. Mr Malema expanded the factual context by subsequently stating that ‘not under my leadership will I call for the slaughter of white people, even though I cannot guarantee what will happen after me.’”
The advocate said that the claim of hate speech and violence hinges on the words “at least for now”, and whether that can be reasonably construed to demonstrate a clear intention to incite harm at some indeterminate time in the future.
“Such incitement is not ‘imminent’ as per the language of section 16(2)(c) of the Constitution, or foreseen at the time when the utterances are made. Moreover, viewed in its context, the statement deals with the subject matter of land dispossession and redistribution, and is not aimed at inciting harm to white people,” she said.
“Thus it is the Commission’s view that the statement in this context, does not amount to hate speech.”
Response to the ruling
Responding to the ruling, the FW de Klerk Foundation said the findings of the commission were “ludicrous”, adding that it “brushed aside the truly chilling implication that Malema might call for the slaughter of white people at some later stage”.
It also criticised the commission for simply taking Malema’s subjective and prejudicial interpretation of history as fact, and disregarding the extremely volatile circumstances in the country in which he made the comments.
The foundation said that it was evident that the only recourse minority groups in South Africa had against hate speech was through the courts.