Sonke Gender Justice and Lawyers for Human Rights have noted with alarm the trend of violence-inciting speech by political leaders and has been monitoring political leader speech since early this year. We thus welcome the recent Electoral Court ruling that disqualified Economic Freedom Front candidate Thabo Mabotja from contesting the Local Government Election, following racist and inciteful speech on social media last week.
All registered political parties and candidates are required to comply with the Electoral Code of Conduct, which specifically prohibits the use of language that may provoke violence during an election or the intimidation of candidates, members of parties, representatives or supporters of parties or candidates. In the months leading up to the local elections, however, there have been several inflammatory comments made by political leaders, often without being held accountable by their parties or constituencies. In June, Sonke wrote to a number of political leaders urging them to denounce the use of inflammatory speech within their parties, to distance themselves from inciting language and to appropriately discipline party members who fell foul of the Electoral Code.
None of these letters or calls to action was answered.
For this reason, on Friday 29 July 2016, Lawyers for Human Rights representing Sonke, wrote formal letters of concern to three political parties whose members’ have made public inflammatory statements of particular concern. These parties are the ANC Youth League (ANCYL), Patriotic Alliance (PA), and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). They were requested to describe the steps taken to curb and address inflammatory language within their parties.
Examples of inflammatory speech by political leaders between May and August 2016
A day after the signing by the parties of the Electoral Code of Conduct in May this year, Commander-in-Chief of the EFF, Julius Malema, addressed the public after having been removed from Parliament:
“The State has power to unleash terror on us… Zuma will never find peace in this Parliament, because Zuma is not a legitimate president of the Republic of South Africa… Let cowards be scared to engage the regime – we are not scared. We are going to fight with everything we have. We are fighting inside with bottles of water, that is the only thing we had. Any weapon we come across we will fight with it… We stand with nothing left but to engage in this programme. Whether it’s a negative image for Parliament or not, you will thank us once we restore the dignity of this Parliament by removing Zuma.”
On 18 May 2016, a day after Malema’s utterances, it was reported that the ANCYL President, Collen Maine made the following statements during an interview with News24:
- “If they [EFF] want a fight, they must be given war” (When asked to clarify, Maine said that he meant this literally)
- “The ANC must use our majority in Parliament to do what Parliament’s protection services are doing, [but] better” (When asked whether he meant that ANC MPs should physically approach the EFF like the protection staff do, Maine replied ‘yes’
- “Julius and his people must know no one has monopoly on anarchy. Actually we can be more [anarchic] than him.”
On Friday 10 June 2016, at a Daily Maverick’s The Gathering in Midrand, Malema made the following statements in a Q&A session:
“EFF is not a violent organisation… there is not any violence that can be attributed to the EFF… If they [the ANC government] are fighting, we will fight with everything we have. We are fighting the state violence. The state violence will be met with violence. If you use violence against us, we are prepared to take up arms in defence of our revolution.”
On 15 June 2016, a Democratic Alliance (DA) meeting hosted by former party leader Helen Zille came to an end when PA members forced their way into Eersterust Civic Centre demanding that she leave while she was speaking. Some PA members swore at Zille shouting, “Voetsek, you white bitch”. One member allegedly threatened to kill Zille because she “had done nothing for coloured people”. Speaking to the media outside, PA leader Gayton McKenzie said he was going to fight the DA wherever they are: “We are going to make war for them. Wherever they go they will see PA.”
Link between inflammatory speech and violence
Speech inciting political violence by senior public figures undermines the rule of law, threatens our democracy, and has the potential to trigger violence. In a number of countries such as Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya, and Bosnia, similar inflammatory statements have acted as catalysts in the escalation of politically motivated violence in the form of xenophobic attacks, armed conflict, civil war or genocide.
Further escalation of violence could be avoided in South Africa if leaders and politicians are held accountable for provocative and inflammatory statements, when civil society and others register strong resistance to incitement to violence and demands appropriate consequences for these. This is of particular importance during the potentially volatile period of an election.
Sonke and Lawyers for Human Rights urges all political leaders to commit to a peaceful election and to work with civil society, the Independent Electoral Commission and other stakeholders to a non-violent local election 2016.
Marlise Richter Policy: Development and Advocacy Unit Manager – marlise@
Jacob van Garderen: National Director, Laywers for Human Rights – Jacob@lhr.org.za Tel: 082 820 3960
Karen Robertson: Communications & Strategic Information Manager – karen@genderjustice.