OF SEMI-COLONS AND THE INTERPRETATION OF THE HATE SPEECH DEFINITION IN THE EQUALITY ACT South African Human Rights Commission v Qwelane (Freedom of Expression Institute as Amici curiae) and a related matter  4 All SA 234 (GJ)
Keywords:threshold test, hate speech prohibition, hate, hurt, harm, hate speech regulation
In South African Human Rights Commission v Qwelane (hereinafter “Qwelane”) the constitutionality of the threshold test for the hate speech prohibition in section 10(1) of the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act 4 of 2000 (hereinafter the “Equality Act”) was challenged. Although the court had no difficulty in finding that the publication in question fell squarely within the parameters of hate speech, the judgment is both incoherent and flawed. The court’s conjunctive interpretation of the section 10(1) requirements for hate speech also differs from the disjunctive interpretation given to the same provision in Herselman v Geleba (ECD (unreported) 2011-09-01 Case No 231/09 hereinafter “Herselman”) by the Eastern Cape High Court. The consequence is a “fragmented jurisprudence” which impacts on legal certainty, and which is especially dangerous when the legislation in question is critical to the achievement of the constitutional mandate (Daniels v Campbell NO 2004 (5) SA 331 (CC) par 104 hereinafter “Daniels”).
This note demonstrates that the Qwelane court misapplied a number of key principles. These include: the court’s mandate in terms of section 39(2) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 (hereinafter the “Constitution”); the need to strike an appropriate balance between competing rights in the constitutional framework; the importance of definitional certainty for a hate speech threshold test; the meaning to be ascribed to the terms “hate”, “hurt” and “harm” in the context of hate speech legislation; and the role of international law when interpreting legislation intended to give effect to international obligations.
The consequence of these errors for hate speech regulation in South Africa is profound.
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