AfriForum disagrees with damning court judgment over Facebook posts

2016-07-10 19:31

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Cape Town – AfriForum “disagrees significantly” with a judgment that a Facebook post alleging its supporters threatened a woman with rape at Stellenbosch University does not have to be taken down.

“It is definitely false that AfriForum or any of our members are harassing [women],” said Marcus Pawson, the group's head of local government affairs.

This followed Western Cape High Cour Judge Michael Donen's judgment on Friday that dismissed Pawson and AfriForum’s bid to have posts by Johan Pienaar removed.

Pienaar is associated with the Open Stellenbosch (OS) movement, which lobbies against Afrikaans as a main medium of instruction, and the Protest Observers Alliance, which monitors protests. 

He posted a series of remarks on Facebook and Twitter after a clash on March 3 between AfriForum supporters who were cleaning a statue on the campus, and participants in a march by a coalition of Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), OS, Fees Must Fall and End Rape Culture campaign supporters.

During the confrontation around a statue of Jan Marais, which was being washed by AfriForum, an End Rape Culture Campaign activist who was part of the EFF march said she was groped, shoved, and had disparaging comments made about her.

During the fracas some of the comments included: “Don't rape her, she's already been done”. Pienaar was also caught up in the fracas, and said he had put himself between the activist and some of the AfriForum supporters to protect her.

AfriForum dismissed Pienaar's actions as a publicity stunt in its denial of the accusation that it had mocked her as a rape survivor.

They denied that supporters of AfriForum had threatened to rape any women, or that they were aware there was a rape survivor in their midst while they allegedly made the comments. They also denied that any AfriForum supporters said what Pienaar claimed.

Cover up

In affidavits, Donen was told that the woman's breasts and buttocks were also touched, that some of the group even washed her, and a man with a leg in her groin ignored her when she asked him to back off. Donen said that because of her previous experience of rape the incident triggered her fears.

On March 6 Pienaar posted on Twitter: “Watch how @MarcusAfr of @AfriForum uses rape to intimidate a rape survivor”.

In another post on March 7, Pienaar wrote: “Look at how Marcus Pawson from AfriForum uses rape to intimidate a rape survivor. This happened on Thursday and this is what AfriForum is desperately trying to cover up with spurious criminal charges and fake civil action”.

On March 8 he tweeted, “Well @AfriForum supporters get to shout rape threats and the media focus on the mud on the statue”.

On March 14 AfriForum and Pawson filed papers for an urgent order that Pienaar's Facebook posts and Tweets be removed, and that Pienaar not say anything claiming that they support or incite rape.

Violent language

However, Donen ruled that the post could stay because according to previous judgments relating to political conflict, emotion and violent language would have been inevitable in the heated exchange. He ruled that Pienaar should be given some latitude.

He said AfriForum could also have refuted the allegations or provided a rebuttal at a meeting or debate. It would have a “chilling” effect on free speech to order the posts be removed, he said when he dismissed the application with costs.

But Donen also laid most of the blame at AfriForum’s door, saying that its supporters did “inflict their rape culture on her and other women present”.

“AfriForum’s promotion of the interruption via a pamphlet led to the violence and the sexual assault, sexual violence and sexual aggression and intimidation and expressing of rape culture in an egregious form,” he said.

But Pawson said the respondents had lied in their affidavit and a video to prove AfriForum’s point was declared inadmissible.

“The lies by the respondent can never be seen as a right of sorts,” Pawson said. He would study the judgment, and would decide later on a course of action later.

Vindicated

But Pienaar felt vindicated. “Justice has been served,” he told News24. 

“Instead of conducting a proper internal investigation they opted to spend as little time as possible investigating serious allegations but rather tried to whitewash their behaviour.” 

He said that during initial settlement talks, AfriForum rejected a proposal that it spend time with the group Rape Crisis, and make a monetary donation to Rape Crisis.

A second proposal was that Protest Observers Alliance match the monetary donation that AfriForum would make to Rape Crisis, but this was also rejected.

He said the organisation had tried to bully them into taking the posts down with the spectre of legal costs of around R120 000.

'Beacon of hope'

Pienaar said their actions showed that the End Rape Culture activist was justified in her campaign to end rape culture on the campus.

As a result of Donen's judgment, it would call for the removal of AfriForum supporter Hein Gonzalez from the council at Stellenbosch University.

He also wanted the medical bills of a woman who had been diagnosed with depression as a result of the confrontation to be paid by AfriForum.

Campus advocacy and educational organisation Unashamed said that throughout their court documents, AfriForum said they did not know there was a rape survivor at the protest.

“This point ought to be irrelevant to any decent human being: making rape threats and using violent language to intimidate a person is a fundamentally violent action, regardless of the history of the person involved,” said co-founder Rochelle Jacobs.

The comments from AfriForum members confirmed the exhibition of rape culture, she said, calling the judgment a “beacon of hope”.

Read more on:    afriforum  |  facebook  |  cape town

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