Hate Speech and Racial Slurs in the South Afican Context: Where to Start?

Keywords: Discrimination, freedom of expression, hate speech, racial slurs, racism, unfair discrimination on the basis of race


Protecting people against hate speech and racist slurs requires weighing up several fundamental rights. To maintain legitimacy in enforcing the legislative protection, a fine balance must be struck between the rights to equality and dignity on the one hand and freedom of speech on the other hand. An analysis of the legislative framework ousting hate speech and unfair discrimination on the basis of race and the manner in which the different relevant provisions have been applied by the courts shows that there are discrepancies that must be addressed. Despite the differences between the policy that facilitated the adoption of the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act 4 of 2000 and the Employment Equity Act 55 of 1998, an alignment must be achieved in the starting point for an objective enquiry dealing with racism. To excuse serious cases of hate speech perpetrated by one population group while presuming that the other population group is racist from the outset does not promote South Africa's nation-building project. On the flipside, to address the unbalanced method of interpretation and implementation of the legislative provisions by adjusting the vantage point from which the assessment into whether an utterance is racist and derogatory is commenced would advance the constitutional value of non-racialism.


Author Biography

Judith Geldenhuys, UNISA

LLB, LLM (UP), LLD (UNISA). Associate Professor in the Department of Mercantile Law, UNISA, South Africa.


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United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) 1969 Status of ratification, Reservations and declarations – South Africa. https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/cerd.aspx (13 March 2019)
Versluis 2019 Rapport https://www.netwerk24.com/Nuus/Hof/kan-twiet-roets-agter-tralies-kry-20190824
Versluis, Jeanne-Marie “Kan twiet Roets agter tralies kry?” Rapport (25 August 2019) https://www.netwerk24.com/Nuus/Hof/kan-twiet-roets-agter-tralies-kry-20190824 (1 September)
Zibi 2019 MSN https://www.msn.com/en-za/news/politicsvideo/dirco-investigating-zindzi-mandela-tweets/ar-AAD3xvE
Zibi, Ongezwa “DIRCO investigating Zindzi Mandela tweets” (18 June 2018) https://www.msn.com/en-za/news/politicsvideo/dirco-investigating-zindzi-mandela-tweets/ar-AAD3xvE (14 August 2019)
Zimeye 2019 https://www.zimeye.net/2019/06/18/latest-on-zindzi-mandela-land-thieves-tweet/# Zimeye
“Latest on Zindzi Mandela ‘Land Thieves’ Tweet” Zimeye (18 June 2019) https://www.zimeye.net/2019/06/18/latest-on-zindzi-mandela-land-thieves-tweet/# Zimeye (18 June 2019)
Statistics and surveys
“Race Relations in South Africa, Reasons for Hope 2017” IRR February 2017
“Race Relations in South Africa: Reasons for Hope” IRR March 2016
“Race relations and racism in everyday life” Fast Facts, IRR September 2001
StatsSA “SA Governance, Public Safety and Justice Survey” https://irr.org.za (18 August 2019)
StatsSA Mid-year population estimates 2019
StatsSA “Mid-year population estimates 2019” http://www.statssa.gov.za/publications/P0302/MYPE%202019%20Presentation_final_for%20SG%2026_07%20static%20Pop_1.pdf (20 August 2019)
How to Cite
GeldenhuysJ., & Kelly-LouwM. (2020). Hate Speech and Racial Slurs in the South Afican Context: Where to Start?. Potchefstroom Electronic Law Journal, 23, 1-46. https://doi.org/10.17159/1727-3781/2020/v23i0a7043