SAHRC officials at the announcement of findings against Julius Malema the leader of the EFF. Picture: Itumeleng English/ANA

Johannesburg - The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) on Wednesday found that Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema's controversial comments on race do not constitute hate speech.

The SAHRC chair Bongani Majola said the commission has received five complaints against Malema and his EFF party since 2016. The complaints related to statements by Malema and party secretary-general Godrich Gardee.

Although it has found no wrong-doing on the part of Malema, the SAHRC said it remained concerned about his utterances.

The complaints before the commission included Malema telling a party rally that he was calling for the peaceful occupation of land, not for the "slaughter" of white people, "at least for now".

The commission found that while this could be construed as hurtful, it should be seen in context, and Malema said that white people would not be killed under his leadership.

On the complaint stemming from Malema singing the liberation struggle song "Kill the Boer", with the lyrics changed to "Kiss the Boer", the commission found that the issue should be judged on the basis of how this was perceived by the average, reasonable listener, not one particular group.

The commission found that when Malema accused Indian people of ill-treating African fellow citizens, he was not promoting hatred or the ill-treatment of the Indian community.

It further held that a tweet by EFF member of Parliament (MP) Godrich Gardee referring to Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane as "Garden Boy" was insulting and offensive but did not constitute hate speech.

The slur was made in the context of race and historical background, the commission said.

The EFF welcomed the findings.

In a statement, EFF spokesman Mbuyiseni Ndlozi said the party made no apology for driving a robust debate and accused the complainants of abusing official resources to stifle it.

"In essence, those who laid complaints, particularly against the CIC Julius Malema wanted to suppress legitimate criticism that should help society confront its ills. Those who want to shut down the land expropriation debate want to silence voices that are critical of white privilege. They also seek to shut down debate about the abusive treatment African people receive at the hands of many Indian bosses. 

"We reiterate that it does not help the country when people try to shut down debates, by abusing the resources and time of courts and chapter 9 institutions."

African News Agency (ANA)