On Thursday, June 29th, the Equality Court sitting in the South Gauteng High Court of South Africa found Bongani Masuku guilty of hate speech following his comments calling for Jewish lives to be made “hell,” among other incendiary remarks. Over twenty-five years since the end of apartheid, South Africa continues the fight to eradicate discrimination, and the landmark ruling has widespread implications for the global fight against anti-Semitism.
In March 2009, Mr. Masuku, the international relations spokesperson for the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), threatened students in his speech at Wits University in Johannesburg during the “Israel Apartheid Week.” His controversial statements targeted South African families who had members serving in the Israeli Defense Force, and called for Jews in South Africa to be forcibly “removed” from the country. The South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) lodged a complaint with the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) in April 2009, which declared that the defendant’s comments qualified as hate speech, and ordered him to apologize.
However, Mr. Masuku refused to comply. The SAHRC subsequently brought the case to the High Court in order to enforce the ruling where a few days ago Judge Moshidi ruled that the 2009 statements constituted hate speech. Judge Moshidi also dismissed arguments by the Defense that the statements were about Zionists and thus not directed at Jews as a whole. In its press release, SAJBD commended the fact that “in terms of judgment, threats and insults against Jews who support Israel cannot be justified on the alleged basis that such attacks are aimed not at Jews but at ‘Zionists.’”
In his ruling, Justice Moshidi declared that the defendant’s statements violated section 10 of the Equality Act 4 of 2000, the comprehensive South African anti-discrimination law prohibiting hate speech. The Act holds the courts and state accountable for hate speech prevention, and ensures agencies abide by the terms of international and constitutional human rights law. Mr. Masuku must now apologize to SAJBD, the overarching organization for the South African Jewish community, within 30 days.
South Africa’s Equality Court has set a strong example that anti-Semitism, just like all forms of hate and bigotry, is unacceptable.