Former Cosatu leader Bongani Masuku ordered to apologise to Jewish community for 2009 hate speech

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The Constitutional Court building.
The Constitutional Court building.
PHOTO: Roger de la Harpe, Gallo Images
  • Cosatu's Bongani Masuku has been ordered to apologise to the Jewish community for a statement he made in 2009.
  • The Constitutional Court took over two years to consider the judgment.
  • It said one of his statements made over a decade ago constituted hate speech.

The Constitutional Court on Wednesday ordered Bongani Masuku to tender an "unconditional apology" to the Jewish community for a statement he made in 2009, in his capacity as head of international relations for the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu).

The apex court took over two years to deliver judgment. It said Masuku's apology must receive the same publicity as the offending statement.

Masuku had made four statements relating to the fight between Israel and Palestinians during tension that broke out in response to the Gaza war over a decade ago.

But the court found that the first of the four statements constituted hate speech in terms of Section 10(1) of the Equality Act.

News24 previously reported that the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJB) had 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.

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

According to the South African Jewish Report (SAJR), on 10 February 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."

In its ruling, the Constitutional Court upheld the Equality Court's finding that a reasonable person would understand the statement as being based on Jewishness as an ethnicity and not on anti-Zionism.

"This was primarily because of the statement's reference to 'Hitler', because a reasonable reader would have noted that a reference to Hitler to a group which was predominately Jewish was used because of their Jewish ethnicity and identity. After all, Hitler's anti-Semitic extermination campaign was not limited to people of the Jewish faith or ethnicity who identified as Zionists," said the court in its media summary.

Masuku was previously found guilty of hate speech in 2017, and the Equality Court in Johannesburg ordered him to apologise.

The South African Human Rights Commission also found him guilty of hate speech in 2009.

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