Hate speech case: Cosatu official's language directly targeted Jews, ConCourt hears

A Cosatu march (GALLO)
A Cosatu march (GALLO)

The Constitutional Court heard arguments on Tuesday that the language in various statements made by Bongani Masuku, in his capacity as head of international relations for the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), were a direct attack on the Jewish community.

"Let's deal with Masuku's statements and the question of whether they were targeted at Jews or not. He spoke of Zionists. We will submit that, in South Africa at a rowdy political meeting, Zionist in the context meant Jews.

"He did not identify them merely as Zionists, he spoke of 'friends of Hitler' - what else could that mean? It means Jews and nothing else," advocate Wim Trengove SC submitted on behalf of the applicants.

Trengove further submitted that Masuku had referred to the surburb of Orange Grove as a known "Jewish community".

"We cannot analyse this in isolation, we must take each factor together, and we can reasonably conclude that he targeted Jews," he said.

This comes after the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJB) accused Masuku of hate speech for comments he made during a lecture at the University of the Witwatersrand, hosted by the Palestine Solidarity Committee and the Young Communist League, News24 earlier reported.

The statements were made over a decade ago in February and March 2009 through a blog post and the statements at the University of Witwatersrand.

This was followed by a complaint lodged in 2009 based on threatening, inflammatory and derogatory statements made by Masuku against the mainstream South African Jewish community, City Press reported.

According to the South African Jewish Report (SAJR), On February 10, 2009, Masuku said: "As we struggle to liberate Palestine from the racists, fascists, and Zionists who belong to the era of their friend Hitler! We must not apologise, every Zionist must be made to drink the bitter medicine they are feeding our brothers and sisters in Palestine.

"We must target them, expose them, and do all that is needed to subject them to perpetual suffering until they withdraw from the land of others and stop their savage attacks on human dignity. Every Palestinian who suffers is a direct attack on all of us."

ALSO READ | Bongani Masuku guilty of hate speech, must apologise to SA Jewish Board of Deputies

Masuku was found guilty of hate speech in 2017, and the Equality Court sitting in the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg ordered him to make an "unconditional apology" to the SAJBD within 30 days, News24 reported.

In addition, Masuku and Cosatu were ordered to pay legal costs.

This came after a ruling by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) in 2009, which found Masuku guilty of hate speech.

The Constitutional Court is now hearing an application for leave to appeal against a judgment of the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) which upheld an appeal against the Equality Court judgment declaring Masuku's statements hate speech.

The aggrieved applicants are of the view that the SCA adopted the wrong approach by relying on Section 16(2) of the Constitution, instead of Section 10 of the Equality Act, which was the basis on which they approached the Equality Court.

The matter continues.

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