Edward Zuma

Opinion - Racial stereotypes and prejudices can only flourish if we, as South Africans, allow them to.

If we are committed to ending racism and make a concerted effort to work with and understand each other as fellow human beings, our diversity will prove our strength.

It is for this reason that we need to commend our courts and chapter nine forums for playing such a positive role in the promotion of race relations in our country.

After a spate of race-related cases in recent months, it is now abundantly clear that racism and bigotry, in whatever shape or form, will not be tolerated in future.

We saw early evidence of this when people such as Penny Sparrow and Vicki Momberg were heavily sanctioned for their divisive and racially insulting utterances.

Over the past week, two highly publicised court cases helped sharpen focus on the evils of racism and the need to encourage social cohesion in our nascent democracy.

In the first case, Edward Zuma - son of former president Jacob Zuma - was fined R60 000 for hate speech and told to apologise to two senior ANC leaders he targeted.

Zuma’s recent attacks on Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, and Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom, were so vile, reckless and contemptuously racist that the SA Human Rights Commission decided to act to promote “the protection, development and attainment of human rights”.

The second case involved businessman Alexander James Williams MacGibbon, who was fined R20 000 and forced to apologise to the Hindu community for his reference to them as “low-class rubbish with no morals” after a Diwali celebration with fireworks.

So incensed was the complainant, the SA Hindu Dharma Sabha, at MacGibbon’s “deeply demeaning and invasive” attitude, that it took up the matter with the Human Rights Commission.

It was the commission that instituted the Equality Court action against MacGibbon.

The fines and orders to apologise will certainly serve as deterrents, but what was even more significant in MacGibbon’s case was that he was also ordered to serve 50 hours of community service at the Ramakrishna Centre in Durban.

This novel approach to sentencing in cases involving racism and hate speech is positive in that people carrying prejudices are exposed to life experiences and attitudes that prevail in communities outside their own.

The recent spate of complaints is a sign that South Africans are gatvol with such negative attitudes and will now not hesitate to take up such issues through the judicial processes to bring the perpetrators to book.

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