Politics Editors Choice

Distinction drawn between individual and race group in Malema hate speech trial

Community members confronted EFF protesters at Brackenfell High School on November 10 2020. File photo.
Community members confronted EFF protesters at Brackenfell High School on November 10 2020. File photo.
Image: Esa Alexander/Sunday Times

“We haven’t seen eye to eye on a series of issues but this isn’t about Julius Malema, this matter is on the question of hate speech and I agree what he said is not hate speech.”

Judge Mark Sher heard evidence by University of Johannesburg political science Prof Steven Friedman in the Equality Court in Cape Town in EFF leader Julius Malema’s hate speech case on Thursday.

In his analysis report, Friedman stated: “Hate speech must be directed at a group, not at people who behave in a particular way. These comments are clearly aimed not at whites as a group but at particular whites who behave in a particular way.

“The threat of violence is not directed at white people as a group. It is not directed at ‘racists’ as a group. It is directed at specific ‘racists’ who either threaten a leader or member of the EFF with violence or use violence against them.”

The case dates to Malema’s speech at an EFF event in the Western Cape in October 2022, which the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) found amounted to hate speech and incitement to violence.

The SAHRC took him to the Equality Court after he refused to apologise and retract his statement within a 10-day deadline in November 2022 as ordered.

Malema was also flagged for saying at the event: “You must never be afraid to kill, a revolution requires killing at some point, because killing is part of the revolutionary act.”

Complaints were lodged related to specific statements allegedly made by Malema in reference to the “Battle of Brackenfell” where residents and EFF supporters brawled outside a high school.

EFF members protested outside the school after a matric ball, organised by parents in 2020 at the school, stirred up racial tensions after it emerged it had been attended exclusively by white pupils. The school was later cleared of racism allegations by the SAHRC.

Among those who picketed outside Brackenfell High School was the co-complainant in the civil case being heard now, Dante van Wyk, who had been charged with assault and acquitted in February 2023. 

Van Wyk is seeking an order for Malema to pay him R1m after comments made by the politician concerning this incident and referred to him as “that white man” during his speech at an elective conference in the Western Cape in 2022.

His advocate, Anwar Albertus, asked Friedman if his view on hate speech applies when Malema stated, “among white people you have these Afrikaner men who over the weekends are inclined to drink and then they beat their women and on a Monday they have these women withdraw the charges”.

Friedman said in that case it is a specific group of white men who are criticised and not all white Afrikaner men but particular men who behave a certain way towards women. He said there is a distinction whether you are targeting an individual, whether they are a member of that group or because they acted in a way in which you have a problem with and happen to be a member.

Sher questioned whether he recognises that in certain cases the speech is directed at an individual who is part of a group, and then gave an example that if one says they hate Pentecostals and beat them, whether that would constitute hate speech. Friedman agreed.

“I’m struggling with your distinction, one cannot be a Pentecost without being a Christian first,” said Sher. “On one hand you seem to say in certain cases those who are targeted could be the subject of hate speech because they belong to a subset of a group, so the primary classification is the group?” Sher asked.

Earlier this week, Dr Karien van den Berg, a senior lecturer at North West University specialising in linguistics and applied linguistics, testified that she believed Malema’s statements qualify as hate speech.

During her analysis, one of the values she took from the speech was “violence”, especially when Malema said, “You must never be afraid to kill” and “to meet one’s maker”, a metaphor meaning “to die”.

“The speaker criticises the organisation for not addressing instances of violence by white males, emphasising the need for a strong response and commitment to confronting racism.

“The speech falls under the field of political activism, aiming to challenge the audience and inspire action. The speech also focuses on the organisation’s response to racism and violence,” said Van den Berg.

The case resumes on Monday with cross-examination of Friedman.



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