Parliament passed the Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill during a plenary session on Tuesday, 5 December 2023. Only the DA, FF+ and ACDP voted against the Bill.
The Bill will now go to the President to be signed into law. Once President Ramaphosa signs (assents to) the Bill, it will become law and be enforceable.
To recap, the Bill proposes criminalising “hate speech” – which the Bill (in simple language) defines as an expression that (1) incites “harm”, and (2) promotes or propagates “hatred” against (3) a group of people specifically listed in the Bill. If you are convicted, you can be sent to jail for up to 5 years.
Severe problems remain:
The big problems with the Bill centre around its wide definition of the element of “harm” (which includes vague concepts such as social harm) and the fact that the element of “hate” remains undefined. The result is that people will not be able to know beforehand whether they are committing this crime. This is a major reason why FOR SA (and many others who made submissions to Parliament) is convinced that the Bill is unconstitutional.
Despite thousands of public submissions to Parliament, Parliament voted against defining the element of “hate” and against strengthening or clarifying the weak religious exemption clause. It is deeply concerning that Parliament has failed to make amendments to protect the constitutional rights to religious freedom and freedom of expression – rights it is constitutionally mandated to protect, promote, fulfil and respect. Instead, fundamental rights critical to the lifeblood of a democracy have been unreasonably and unjustifiably limited. The only thing between this becoming law and being enforced by the full might of the South African criminal justice system is the signature of the President. Unless he exercises his constitutional prerogative, South Africa may well see this legislation come into force before next year’s general elections.
The way forward:
The President, in terms of section 79(1) of the Constitution, can send the Bill back to Parliament for reconsideration if he has concerns about its constitutionality. DearSA will be launching a Dear Mr President campaign soon, which will allow you to write to President Ramaphosa, asking him to send the Hate Speech Bill back to Parliament.
FOR SA encourages everyone who values freedom and free speech to participate in this campaign and to make our voices heard. It is critically important that we once again speak up in big numbers so that the President is in no doubt of what the will of the people is in this matter. Our and our children’s right to live out our faith freely and without fear depends on it. We will be releasing details of how to participate soon.
Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) is dedicated to protecting and preserving the freedoms and rights that the South African Constitution has granted to the faith community. If you have found this helpful, please consider supporting the work of FOR SA to protect our constitutional right to enjoy the freedom of religion by: