Pretoria - The Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) has delivered over 10 000 written submissions to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) opposing the Hate Speech Bill.
The submissions were a last-ditch attempt to have the Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill amended, after various religious organisations, political parties, and civil society groups cited concerns about the bill’s broad definition of “harm” and its lack of definition of “hate” or “hatred”.
Submissions closed at 13:00 on Thursday 25th May.
The government has defended the bill saying its purpose was to address the increasing number of incidents involving hate crime and hate speech motivated by prejudice, and to assist victims.
However, FOR SA said the proposed bill was a serious threat to the constitutional right many South Africans.
“This proposed law is a serious threat to our constitutional right to religious freedom and to the fundamental democratic right of freedom of speech.
“No one should face criminal sanctions for saying what they believe to be true, even if others find their views to be highly offensive or unacceptable.
“The majority of these submissions were from the religious sector, which is keenly aware that this law has the potential of being weaponised against people who may offend others simply by expressing their sincerely held faith convictions,” said Michael Swain, Executive Director of FOR SA.
Swain said from its inception, the bill has been opposed by advocates for free speech, including academics, political parties and other and civil society organisations.
“A clear indication of the unpopularity of this proposed law is evidenced by the tens of thousands of written submissions that have been made by individuals and organisations to oppose this bill.
“Critics have challenged the bill as unconstitutional, highlighting the vague and overbroad definition of hate speech, the wide list of protected categories, the draconian maximum sentence of up to eight years in jail for offenders, and the evident lack of a clear and robust clause protecting bona fide speech and expression,’’ he said.
Swain added that South Africa already has existing laws that are used effectively to sanction “hate speech”.
He said the Equality Act gives the courts a wide range of powers to impose fines and other civil penalties, while the common law crime of crimen injuria has been used to prosecute racist speech successfully in the recent cases of Vicki Momberg and Penny Sparrow.
FOR SA’s attorney, Daniela Ellerbeck said the bill was not only unnecessary, but if passed into law in its current form, it will be easier to be sent to jail as a criminal than to be ordered to pay the civil penalty of a fine or to make a public apology.
“As a new democracy, we cannot afford to return to the dark days of censorship of the apartheid era.”
The bill was already approved by the National Assembly on 14 March 2023 and if its passed by the NCOP, it will only await the signature of President Cyril Ramaphosa before it comes into force.