Racism continues to thrive in South Africa

A total of 5 464 complaints were received by the commission in the past financial year alone, with equality complaints being the highest rights violation.

A total of 5 464 complaints were received by the commission in the past financial year alone, with equality complaints being the highest rights violation.

Published Jul 14, 2022


Cape Town - Racism continues to plague the nation, with complaints of discrimination, especially hate speech, among the most recorded by the South African Human Rights Commission (Sahrc) over the past financial year.

The findings were part of the Sahrc’s latest trend analysis report for 2020/2021 released on Wednesday.

5 464 complaints were received by the commission in the past financial year, with equality complaints being the highest rights violation.

“Violations of the right to equality on the grounds of race continue to be the highest reported ground of unfair discrimination, with a significant number of such complaints constituting race-based hate speech.”

On average, the highest number of equality-related complaints were received in Gauteng, followed by the Western Cape.

The commission added that while Equality Courts had become increasingly accessible, the institution had also experienced challenges with low levels of awareness by court functionaries and “low uptake of these courts”.

“Notwithstanding the limited uptake, the operation of magistrate courts in handling equality complaints proved to be essential – especially in the social media era where racist incidents quickly go ‘viral’ and offenders are held accountable in Equality Courts and to some respect, in full view of the public. Awareness and access to Equality Courts have enhanced active citizenry, less tolerance for bigotry and subsequent swift action against culprits.”

The Black Lawyers Association (BLA) said only when the country started treating racism like a criminal offence would there be real change.

“The high number of complaints is an indication that we have not solved the legacy of apartheid and colonialism.

“We have not taken sufficient steps to ensure certain conduct is officially criminalised so that racism becomes illegitimate in post-1994 South Africa,” said the BLA’s Bayethe Maswazi.

“The fact that people go to the Sahrc is proof of the fact that there is no platform for people to take their complaints; they go to the commission in the absence of an alternative.

“They cannot go to the police station and see someone get arrested.

“It is one of the embarrassing aspects of post-1994 South Africa.

“We have allowed racism to thrive. Now the best you can do is punish perpetrators through a fine. The fines might not necessarily be sufficient because many can afford to pay it and racists are allowed to go under the screen back to what they were doing.

“We are solving a problem through fines that we can solve through criminal law. If they know they have a record for racism - the law says if you have that record you cannot access certain things - people will be deterred.”

He said racism was not something to be taken lightly.

Policy analyst Nkosikhulule Nyembezi added it was a good sign people were coming forward, however there was still much work to be done to eradicate the ill.

“First, the good news: South Africans are increasingly challenging unfair discrimination and violations of their equality rights as shown in the successive reports of the Human Rights Commission, including the latest report.

“What is not so good is that the right to equality remains the top-reported violation, with 60% of complaints in this category relating to discrimination on the basis of race.

“More people complaining year after year about the same manifestation of a social ill is not a good look, no matter how you squint.

“In a country where colonialism and apartheid entrenched inequality, social cohesion continues to deteriorate in the face of poverty, hunger, unemployment and resultant marginalisation.

“What is disappointing is that most South Africans expect the successful resolution of complaints over the years should have served as a lesson to change attitudes, utterances and actions of citizens, and foster social cohesion inspired by human rights promotion. Social media and other digital communication platforms should be used to promote human rights instead of enabling the widening of inequality and dehumanisation of others.”

He added that the report posed a challenge to the government to renew and increase investment in partnerships with civil society and other stakeholders to promote human rights “by tackling the underlying challenges of poverty, hunger, unemployment and resultant marginalisation”.

Recent incidents of racism have continued to expose the magnitude of the problem.

About a month ago, Stellenbosch University student Babalo Ndwayana had his belongings urinated on by white student Theuns du Toit, which caused outrage among students.

Last year, Cricket South Africa’s Social Justice and Nation-Building, exposed years of racism experiences by players of colour.

Another recent video that went viral on social media last month, was that of a white man, repeatedly kicking a defenceless teenager in the abdomen. The incident was alleged to be sparked by the teen and his brother reaching for sauce to pour on their hot chips. It took place in Groblersdal in Limpopo. A case of assault was opened against the assailant.

Earlier this year, pupils of colour at Hoërskool Jan Viljoen in Randfontein said they felt racially targeted following a violent clash between black and white pupils at the school. In a video of the incident which also went viral on social media, there were also voice notes using defamatory language, including the K-word.

In 2018, Tunisia's parliament confirmed a law criminalising racial discrimination.

Last year in April, the Tunisian government also passed a decree for the creation of the National Commission for the Fight Against Racial Discrimination to enforce the 2018 law.

Cape Times