Sexwale’s ‘evil farmer’ comments not hate speech: SAHRC

2011-08-25 11:46

Comments made by Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale about “evil farmers” did not constitute hate speech, but were insensitive, the SA Human Rights Commission has said.

A complaint was brought against Sexwale by AgriSA over comments he made during an interview on SABC’s Morning Live on January 28 last year.

In the interview, Sexwale said: “...The growing number of squatter camps in South Africa is caused by people who are kicked out by very, very evil farmers ... fearful of the fact that laws say you’ve got to provide these people with security of comfort ...”

AgriSA complained that the statement contained accusations that were impossible to substantiate and which damaged the reputation of commercial farmers.

Today, rights commissioner Sandi Baai said that while the comments did not impinge on constitutionally-enshrined human rights, “those holding public office should think before they make statements”.

She said the commission found that Sexwale had expressed his opinion on the cause of the increase in squatter camps, but had not presented this as fact.

AgriSA said it would consider appealing the commission’s finding.

“The commercial farming community experience generalisations such as those expressed by Minister Sexwale as offensive and intended to render worker-employer relationships at farm level suspect,” AgriSA president Johannes Möller said in a statement.

Baai said the commission interpreted Sexwale’s remarks as referring to “certain very, very evil farmers” and not farmers in general.

It also took into account that the comment was made in response to a question on the causes of squatter camps in South Africa.

She said the definition of hate speech involved “incitement to do harm”.

Also, a causal link between advocacy of hatred for a group and harm caused was necessary to fulfil the definition.

Möller said that, in the context of the country’s record of farm attacks, AgriSA had a duty to challenge Sexwale’s comments and point out their implications on behalf of commercial farmers.

He said factual basis was lacking in most cases where farm labour practices had been called into question.

Baai said the commission had considered whether Sexwale should apologise, but had found there were insufficient grounds for this.

The commission recommended that all South Africans, particularly those in public office, refrain from making statements or expressing opinions that were potentially offensive to others.

“Instead these officials should use such public platform to communicate in a manner that respects and upholds the rights of others, promotes the values of the Constitution and contributes towards the building of a nation that is united in its diversity.”

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