Georgina Guedes

Freedom of expression is for everyone

2014-12-01 08:30

Georgina Guedes

A couple of years ago, I was standing in a queue at the Rosebank Mall parking machines. Being short, I had opted to stand slightly out of line, rather than staring directly at the back of the person in front of me.

When it was my turn to pay, a woman who had joined the rather disorganised queue behind me remarked loudly and sneeringly to her friend, “Oh, I see we have people jumping the queue here today.”

I turned to her and explained politely that I had always been in the queue, just standing slightly to one side, and proceeded to make my payment.

The woman, who was clearly insane, started shrieking that I was infringing on her right to free expression. She shrieked about it the whole time that I was making payment, and continued to shriek at me as my husband and we walked back to our car.

She yelled for security, she threatened to call the police, she made a big show of taking down my licence plate so that she could report me to the Human Rights Commission. My husband and I mostly just ignored her, let ourselves into the car and drove off.

This woman was clinging to a definition of freedom of expression that doesn’t exist in reality. Freedom of expression does not protect the speaker from a response from those who have been offended.

Sure, the response can’t be murder or jail time (unless the speaker is admitting to a crime), but a polite rebuttal or even a heated argument in no way trample on the speaker’s right to freedom of expression.

I can say what I like, but you can’t

This is a lesson that Dan Roodt and Steve Hofmeyr learnt in court this week, when they tried to have an interim protection order made final against Conrad Koch, the puppetmaster of Chester Missing, to prevent him from “harassing” Hofmeyr.

This drama unfolded after Hofmeyr said on Twitter that “blacks were the architects of apartheid”, and Missing responded with the same level of ridicule that most South Africans were feeling. And then he carried on a bit more. And then he started tackling Hofmeyr’s sponsors.

This is the kind of behaviour that normally gets someone blocked, or at worst, gets the target to go offline for a while. But not Hofmeyr. Instead, he got his buddy Afrikaner activist Dan Roodt to represent him in a court case.

Dan Roodt is not a lawyer. Hofmeyr has bucks. I’m still not entirely sure how this decision played out behind closed doors, but it seems to me that they were doing their best to make themselves look like idiots, as a gift to the media.

Hofmeyr wasn’t present at the final ruling, in which magistrate Naren Sewnarain upheld the principles of freedom of expression and dismissed Roodt’s application as “unreasonable and fictitious”.

Of course, Hofmeyr doesn’t see it that way, and took to Twitter to say, “Die einde van vryheid van uitdrukking. Die media is darem volgende [The end of freedom of expression. The media are next.]”

It works both ways

While I am sure the media will thank Hofmeyr not to speak for us, this highlights Hofmeyr’s lack of understanding of the basic principle of “freedom”. It works both ways, chum. You can’t go to court to ask for your freedom to be upheld, when that requires the trampling on the freedom of another.

And this debacle has gifted us one final treasure: the video of Dan Roodt grappling with a puppet outside of the Magistrate’s Court.

Roodt and Hofmeyr, self-appointed spokespeople for the Afrikaner nation, should learn not to rise to the bait. This case has been embarrassing to them, and would have fizzled out had they not taken it further.

They should have learnt a lesson from our president, who had the wisdom to drop charges against that other entertainer and satirist Zapiro before an embarrassing showdown could take place in the courts. But I don’t think Roodt and Hofmeyr are receptive to lessons taught by a black man.

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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