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Hate Speech or Free Speech?

Jamie Fitzgerald, Staff Writer

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The draft Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill will “give effect to the Republic’s obligations in terms of the Constitution and international human rights instruments concerning racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance in accordance with international law obligations,” stated on the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development: Republic of South Africa’s website. If passed, this law could imprison someone up to 10 years for their crime.

South Africa has had issues with race for centuries. Apartheid was a political system that discriminated against Afrikaners, the natives of South Africa. From 1948-1994, the National Party and its all-white government ruled South Africa and reinforced the racial segregation of Apartheid. In 1994, a new constitution, which enfranchised blacks and other racial groups, took effect, and elections that year led to a coalition government with a nonwhite majority, marking the official end of the apartheid system. For over four decades, the strict and cruel rules of Apartheid ruled South Africa. These laws prohibited interracial marriages and segregated the education system of South Africa.

The proposed law outlawing the use of hate speech has had a great amount of backlash from leaders in South Africa. “You cannot legislate for good human behavior; you cannot legislate for social cohesion,” said Tusi Fokane, the executive director of the Freedom of Expression Institute, a private organization. “Given our past, a lot more will be required than banning and criminalizing expressions.”

If this law passes, South Africa would have censorship on their free speech. In the United States of America almost all expression is protected under the First Amendment, no matter how offensive. There are many racial slurs used in the United States of America and in most cases they are not punished by law. “The K-word here and the N-word in the States are essentially vehicles for expressing hate, a way of demeaning another person to make them less than what you are. In both societies, those two words resonate virtually the same way,” said Millard Arnold, 60, an American who has lived in South Africa for more than two decades and is a trustee of the Steve Biko Foundation, a community development organization, in an interview with the New York Times.

Even though hate speech is protected under the first amendment in America, there are strong connotations with the racial slurs that affect those that they define. But, people in the United States of America openly say slurs that are considered hate speech without being reprimanded.

In a “60 Minutes”/ Vanity Fair poll titled Freedom of Speech conducted in February 2016, they found many statistics about how Americans feel about hate speech. “By a 2 to 1 margin, Americans think that people who engage in hate speech against other people are more dangerous than those who try to silence hate speech against others,” according to the poll.

“I believe Africa’s progress will also depend on democracy, because Africans, like people everywhere, deserve the dignity of being in control of their own lives. We all know what the ingredients of real democracy are.  They include free and fair elections, but also freedom of speech and the press, freedom of assembly. The African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights declares that “every individual shall have the right to the respect of the dignity inherent in a human being,”said President Barack Obama, in a speech from 2015 addressed to a pan-African conference.

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Barnstable High School's Award-Winning Student News Site
Hate Speech or Free Speech?