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It has already taken government 14 years to finalise its anti-racism policy, but in light of last week’s social-media outrage over racist utterances, the state is having yet another look at its anti-discrimination laws.
Cabinet approved the publication of the draft national action plan to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance for public comment last month. Members of the public have until June 30 to make submissions on the document.
The plan provides the basis for the development of a comprehensive public policy against racial discrimination, but it will not be replacing any of the existing laws and policies that seek to address racism and racial discrimination.
Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development John Jeffery told City Press there was another process that government was looking at to criminalise hate speech.
He said government had previously attempted to come up with a policy framework on hate crimes.
“It went to Cabinet before the last elections but Cabinet felt it wasn’t a good time before the national elections to try to engage in a policy debate around hate crimes. It was held back.”
He said the view of the department was not to proceed with the policy but to look at introducing legislation on hate crimes.
“That is quite far advanced. There is a draft bill and consultation with the civil society hate crimes working group at the moment, and the intention is to take that to Cabinet in a month or so and then to release it for public comment.”
Jeffery said the initial view was not to include hate speech as a hate crime because hate speech could be dealt with through the equality court, which was a civil court.
In light of the racist utterances that people were still making, they would re-evaluate the existing law, called crimen injuria, which dealt with racism, he said.
“We need to look at whether there are gaps in the law and how can we strengthen it. That is a separate intervention, which will be coming shortly and will go out for public comment,” he said.
The national action plan that is out for public comment is not a law but an international policy document that will be lodged with the UN. It arises from the World Conference against Racism that was held in Durban in 2001.
“We are quite behind in not having adopted one,” admitted Jeffery.
“It has been worked on for many years. This is about the 15th draft of the national action plan, but it is finally out for public comment.”
Jeffery said the purpose of the plan was to provide South Africa with a comprehensive policy framework to address racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and racial intolerance, both at the public and private levels.
“So it is not just the government, it’s also for the private sector and South Africa as a whole. It’s not expected that it will replace existing laws and policy but rather will be complementary to existing legislation, policy and programmes that address equality, equity and discrimination,” he said.
Jeffery added that, looking at “the current context” in which there had been major issues regarding race and attacks on immigrants, it was important for South Africans to participate in a discussion around the action plan and to contribute to coming up with the best strategies for building a cohesive nation.