South African political parties have agreed to criminalise racism, following the intense debate around racism and race relations in South Africa, ignited by racist comments made by Penny Sparrow, a white estate agent comparing black people to monkeys.

In a Facebook post, Sparrow called black people monkeys and said: “These monkeys that are allowed to be released on New years Eve And new years day on to public beaches towns etc obviously have no education what so ever and to allow them loose is inviting huge dirt and discomfort to others.”

“I do know some wonderful thoughtful black people. This lot of monkeys just don’t want to even try…From now I. Shall address the blacks of South Africa as monkeys as I see the cute little wild monkeys do the same pick drop and litter,” she added. Although, Sparrow apologised, she remained largely unrepentant and her apology has been accused of being insincere.

Comments supporting Sparrow’s remarks, made by Justin Van Vuuren on social media also contributed to the debate whether racism should be criminalised. Commentator Chris Hart also made racist comments on Twitter, which stoked up the discourse on racism. Hart tweeted, “More than 25 years after Apartheid ended, the victims are increasing along with a sense of entitlement and hatred towards minorities….”

These comments have caused a major uproar and the ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC) has proposed that the parliament should enact legislation to “criminalise any act that perpetuates racism or glorifies apartheid”.

In a statement, the ANC noted, “there are still elements who are resisting efforts for racial unity and are working tirelessly to widen the racial rifts and tensions created by apartheid oppression…In the context of our painful past, racial bigotry and apartheid must be considered serious human rights violations that must be punishable by imprisonment”.

DA leader Mmusi Maimane says the party does not condone racism Photo: Uhuru

DA leader Mmusi Maimane says the party does not condone racism Photo: Uhuru

In an act of solidarity, opposition parties, the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the Economic Freedom Front (EFF) have also echoed sentiments, which support criminalising racist statements.

Weighing in on the debate, constitutional law scholar Pierre de Vos on his blog questioned the merits of criminalising racist and bigoted speech. De Vos concedes that practical questions arise on the state’s ability to effectively “prosecute and punish individuals who are guilty of racist, sexist or homophobic speech”.

While there are questions around the practicality to prosecute racists, what is reassuring is that there is political will to do so. The agency shown by the public and interest groups to address one of South Africa’s enduring problems is also noteworthy.

Source: Politics Web