SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande says a law preventing people from insulting a sitting president is more than necessary because white South Africans have shown very little respect for blacks and their cultures.
Nzimande became the first senior tripartite alliance leader to publicly back a call for the so-called insult law yesterday, saying whites have pushed their black counterparts to the limit with their disrespectful treatment of President Jacob Zuma.
Suggesting that whites respected only Jewish and Afrikaner cultures, Nzimande said the free-for-all lampooning of the country’s president, by artist Brett Murray and other like-minded people, threatened to undo social cohesion and unity brought by the new dispensation in 1994.
But constitutional law expert Pierre de Vos believes such a law would not work in South Africa as it would be in conflict with the constitution and the rule of law, which is the principle that no one is above the law or more equal than others.
The higher education and training minister, who is a close Zuma ally, was speaking to The Star after his briefing to the National Assembly about matters related to his portfolio.
His statement came days after the SACP in KwaZulu-Natal called for the enactment of a law to protect the office of the president following a “barrage of insults directed at President Zuma”.
SACP provincial secretary Themba Mthembu said the discussion had been prompted by attacks on Zuma, including the way in which he was portrayed in the controversial painting The Spear.
Nzimande warned that people and Zuma’s supporters would “sooner or later” reach boiling point.
“It’s like we don’t have a culture. I’m Jewish you know, I’m Afrikaans, but if you’re black African, you are not supposed to have a culture, and that’s a problem. In fact, the danger of this thing, with the path it is pointing to, we can undo the 1994 deal very easily and undermine the social cohesion,” said Nzimande.
He said people “can differ with me and you can criticise me as you like, but disrespect, that is not acceptable”.
He claimed “we are being undermined by whites”.
De Vos said such a law “could not possibly be squared with the constitution”.
He said there were examples of such laws around the world.
In Poland, the authorities had launched a manhunt for someone who had broken wind loudly in response to a request from police to show more respect for then president Lech Kaczynski.
It is also illegal to insult the president in Zimbabwe. A Zimbabwean newspaper reported this week that a member of parliament was expected to present a private member’s bill, the Press Freedom and Transparency Bill, which seeks to decriminalise insults against President Robert Mugabe.
And in Thailand, insulting the monarchy can land you in jail for three to 15 years. In Turkey, a British artist was fined recently for depicting Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s head on a dog’s body in one of his artworks. In Iran, a prominent journalist was sentenced to 16 months in prison for calling President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a megalomaniac.
In Egypt, before the revolution, you could go to jail for up to four years for insulting Hosni Mubarak.