In the wake of another surge of xenophobic violence earlier this year, Parliament convened an Ad Hoc Joint Committee on Probing Violence Against Foreign Nationals, which sat again on Thursday 25 June. In March of this year, Zulu King Zwelithini was recorded saying that foreigners “must take their bags and go where they’ve come from.” Many have viewed these comments as the potential cause of the last surge of xenophobic violence. But on Thursday the Ad Hoc Committee dismissed the suggestion of speaking with the King about his utterances. Committee Co-Chair, Ms Ruth Mbengu, told the Ad Hoc Committee that “(o)nly the media thinks it started with the king.” King Zwelithini has argued that his comments were taken out of context and has refused to apologise or provide an explanation.
In our multi-cultural society, with its rich history and diversity of lived experience, it is important that we all show respect for each other and respect the positions of office holders and traditional leaders. But these leaders must lead by example and, especially in the light of our hateful and violent Apartheid past, must guard against comments and actions that can be interpreted as intolerant, prejudiced, or hateful in any way. Leaders must be mindful of the impact their words and actions could have on vulnerable groups. South African activists and researchers working with issues related to hate crimes generally share the conviction that hateful speech, such as harassment, slurs, and other forms of verbal abuse, creates fertile ground for hate-motivated victimisation.
“People in leadership positions, regardless of who they are, must be accountable. The shielding of leaders by our government must end,” said Lesego Tlhwale, Advocacy Officer at the Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Task Force, a member of the Hate Crimes Working Group.
Anthony Waldhausen, Director of the Gay & Lesbian Network and member of the Hate Crimes Working Group, agreed, saying that, “Our oversight institutions, including Parliament, should not be seen to be creating a culture of impunity. Comments and actions that can be interpreted by the general public as prejudiced must be addressed, regardless of their source.”
“The South African Human Rights Commission is in the process of investigating a number of complaints of hate speech against the King. This clearly shows that it is not only the media that thinks the King’s words could have been a catalyst for the subsequent wave of xenophobic violence,” said Marlise Richter, Policy Development and Advocacy Specialist at Sonke Gender Justice, a member of the Hate Crimes Working Group.
“Influential figures must use their power and platforms to build the respect and tolerance necessary for our democracy,” said Matthew Clayton, secretary of the Hate Crimes Working Group and Research, Advocacy and Policy Coordinator of the Triangle Project.
“We strongly support ANC MP Zephroma Dlamini-Dubazana’s suggestion that the Ad Hoc Committee visit the King, to engage in a dialogue about what lead to his statements, and their potential unintended impact. It cannot be disrespectful to do so if MPs are democratically elected political leaders of the South African people. We also support the suggestion that other Chiefs and leaders be similarly engaged,” said Sanja Bornman, Chairperson of the Hate Crimes Working Group and attorney at the Women’s Legal Centre.
The Hate Crimes Working Group is a civil society grouping whose members work closely with government and civil society, including religious and traditional leaders, to advocate for hate crimes legislation.
For further information contact:
Marlise Richter, Policy Development and Advocacy Specialist at Sonke Gender Justice
021 423 7088
Sanja Bornman, Attorney at Women’s Legal Centre
021 424 5660
Roshan Dadoo, Acting Executive Director at Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa
011 403 7560