The Equality Court in Cape Town has dismissed a Rondebosch man's claim that Die Burger newspaper's use of the word "boesman" amounted to hate speech.
The court said it could not fault the newspaper, particularly when looking at the context in which the word had been used.
Jacobus Faasen submitted that, as a descendant of the Khoisan, he found the use of the word "boesman" to be hate speech because it disregarded his human dignity.
He said it was derived from the word "bosjesman", which meant baboon or orang-utang.
The court had to decide whether the use of the word amounted to hate speech, whether it meant baboon and whether Die Burger used it with the intent to degrade, demean or dehumanise the San community.
Equality Court magistrate James Lekhuleni ruled on Friday that the evidence led by Faasen and his witnesses did not indicate advocacy of hatred.
The evidence also did not show that Die Burger had an intention to be hurtful, he said.
"Objectively speaking and taking into account the context in which (Die Burger) published the word 'boesman' and the evidence of the San Council witness, I find that the usage of the word did not cause harm, hostility or hatred.
"Instead, the San Council's representative was adamant that no hurt or harm was caused to them or the San community with the manner in which (Die Burger) published the word 'boesman'."
Lekhuleni said that he agreed with the newspaper's expert witnesses that the meaning of some words changed with the passage of time.
He found the evidence was overwhelming that the word did not mean orang-utang.
Lekhuleni also said he could not find any malice on the part of the newspaper and dismissed Faasen's claim.
He ordered that each party bear its own costs.
Faasen instituted similar proceedings against the Sunday Times, but the case was postponed pending the outcome of the case against Die Burger.
The magistrate ordered that the newspaper and all other publishers be restrained from using the word in a prejudicial and offensive manner.
Dewald van den Berg, who represented Die Burger, said it was important for the public to remember that Die Burger had a code of conduct that stated the word be used only in exceptional circumstances.
In this case it was used in a particular context and was not intended to offend anyone.