South Africa's ANC Mulls Tougher Laws to Criminalize Racism

  • ANC's parliament chief whip says current laws not sufficient
  • Constitution protects freedom of expression, bans hate speech

South Africa’s ruling party is seeking to strengthen laws to criminalize racist speech after a woman described black people on social media as animals, sparking a public outcry.

Current laws aren’t sufficient to “punish and dissuade racists,” the African National Congress’s chief whip in Parliament, Stone Sizani, said in an e-mailed statement on Wednesday. “We will soon investigate creating a specific law or amending the existing legislation to ensure that acts of racism and promotion of apartheid are criminalized and punishable by imprisonment.”

South Africa is still afflicted by racism more than two decades after the end of apartheid, a political regime under which most black South Africans were denied political rights, stripped of their land, provided with inferior schooling and confined to doing menial jobs. While South Africa’s Bill of Rights guarantees freedom of expression, it outlaws hate speech based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or religion.

“Racism in speech and behavior is already outlawed by the South African Constitution and in the common law accusation of crimen injuria,” Lester Adams, managing partner of Johannesburg law firm Lindsay Keller, said by phone. “Just like any other crime, one would have to prove intent and behavior, and in this case, it would be based on race.”

The racist comments were made by a real-estate agent who’s a member of the main opposition Democratic Alliance. Party leader Mmusi Maimane condemned her statements and said the alliance had brought criminal charges against her for infringing the dignity of all South Africans.

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