Members of the Chinese community picket outside court. Picture: Khaya Koko.
Members of the Chinese community picket outside court. Picture: Khaya Koko.

'Racist' comments made on Facebook about Chinese nationals haunt users two years on

By Chulumanco Mahamba Time of article published Nov 28, 2019

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Johannesburg - A  lawyer for one of the 12 accused of hate speech directed at Chinese nationals has argued that the “racist and genocidal” comments made on Facebook were only in reaction to the perpetrators of a Carte Blanche exposé and not the entire Chinese community.

This is according to Colin Garvey, who is representing Mariete van der Linde de Klerk, the eighth respondent in the matter.

The hearing of the hate speech case where 12 respondents allegedly posted anti-Chinese comments on Facebook in January 2017 continued at the Equality Court sitting in the South Gauteng High Court  on Wednesday with the cross-examination of the chairperson of the Chinese Association, Erwin Pon.

Garvey put it to Pon that his client’s and the other respondents’ alleged comments were outraged reactions to a television exposé over the killing of donkeys and the export of their skins to China.

“These reactions, that’s all they are. They are reactions and different people react in different ways,” said Garvey.

Pon said their reactions could be hurtful and violent.

Garvey argued that the comments did not incite violence, as Pon and the other witnesses did not make any mention of violence or injury inflicted on the Chinese community because of the comments.

“I am going to argue to this court that hate speech can never be something that is merely offensive,” said Garvey.

He further asked if any harm came to Pon or members of his community.

“Harm does not have to be physical,” Pon countered. He added that after the association saw the comments in 2017, a meeting was announced where non-members of the Chinese community said they would attend.

“We arranged for a time to have the meeting and we got a message saying ‘We’re also coming around’ and we saw these messages were not from our community. We got worried for our own harm and safety, we hired special security to be there,” said Pon.

Garvey also put to the court that he believed the evidence in the trial was altered because of the insertion of “[Chinese]” between “their children” in the comment allegedly made by respondent Ryan van der Walt.

“I think we should start killing their children for cure for babalaas, maybe then they will leave our animals alone,” Van der Walt allegedly wrote.

Garvey said if the statement was read with the insertion of the word “Chinese”, the statement would be problematic and offensive.

“If you take the inserted word ‘Chinese’ out, who is their? The point I am making is the evidence was altered,” Garvey said.

Pon’s cross-examination will continue today after the testimony from a social media expert. 

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