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This article is directed at Democratic Alliance (DA) supporters, members, parliamentarians, and policy makers. It pertains to the recent Hate Speech Bill and the party’s dangerous lack of criticism of it.

While the DA has been prudent in condemning attempts to censor the internet, it has not been forthcoming in providing public comment on the Hate Speech Bill, an ill wrought and dire piece of legislation.

The bill itself, for those that don’t know, attempts to combat hate speech by changing its definition. While hate speech has been, rightfully, treated as the incitement of violence against groups, this bill seeks to change hate speech to also include ridicule and insults. It has also expanded the list of intended victims, including odd groups such as professions and beliefs as protected under the law. This effectively makes lawyer jokes a criminal offence – and more dangerously, criticism of ideology bounds for arrest.

The DA, as a self-proclaimed and historically liberal party, should be on the frontlines of opposing such an irrational and potentially authoritarian bill – but have been silent. Some within the DA’s ranks have even commended the bill. These cries of support are hopefully from ignorance and not genuine support for a bill that effectively bans comedy.

In an effort to win elections, the DA has sadly sacrificed much of what made it a good party. Its principles have been burnt at the pyre of populism and majoritarian politics. While I do not support the DA wholeheartedly due to these actions, I understand why they did it. Politics is the art of compromise and democracy requires appealing to the majority.

Compromise should not mean capitulation, however; for not opposing the Hate Speech Bill effectively allows regressive elements in our society carte blanche to destroy a fundamental principle of any republic – free speech. As a liberal organisation, even if only in name, the DA must stand by free speech!

The DA also faces an international obligation to uphold this prime liberal value – as it finds itself a member of the Liberal International. Members are expected to abide by the Oxford Manifesto, that reaffirms the liberal tenet of free speech.

It is without a doubt that the DA, if it wishes to remain at least a bit liberal, needs to oppose this bill. It must comment publicly, either weakening the intolerable parts of the bill, or shutting it down altogether. Most importantly, its members of parliament must ensure that the party is united in voting down the bill in its current form.

This bill doesn’t only represent a dangerous threat to South African freedom – it presents a choice for the DA. Either it must lead on the frontline as a defender of liberal values, or it must abandon the tag.

There are good, honest and intelligent people in the DA. It must be their job to educate the rest, many of whom don’t understand the DA’s position as liberal, and ensure that the party makes an adequate stand against a heinous piece of legislation. If they fail, then we will have completely lost the already waning main vanguard of liberalism in South Africa.

Sign the poll here: Defend Free Speech in South Africa by opposing the Hate Speech Bill

  • Steven van Staden

    I have commented, as you and a few others have, on the obvious threats to freedom of expression concealed in the worst clauses of this proposed Bill. I am as shocked as you are by the silence of academics, politicians and media watchdogs civil society organisations who believe in the virtues of liberal democracy which could not function if such a Bill were promulgated.

    In terms of the most offending clauses, a critic of some event, behaviour or belief could well be courting a prison sentence for expressing an opinion or pointing out a fact about such event, behaviour or belief that might be unpalatable to individuals or groups holding a contrary view or belief.

    Surely it must be patently clear to any observer that this so-called Hate Speech Bill cloaks sinister and ulterior motives that can only harm our fragile and vulnerable democracy.

    • Vicky

      Hi, good to run into you again. USA just elected Trump. Almost all of Trump’s statements over the past 18 months would have been illegal in SA. Think about that, think about that long and hard. The leader of the free world’s politics would be banned in SA. That does not mean USA is f-ed up, that means SOUTH AFRICA IS F-ED UP.

      • Steven van Staden

        No wonder we can’t sleep! I just made a rushed, off-the-cuff comment on this point in response to Laurette Marais’ article ‘Uncomfortable Freedom: Donald Trump and Jacob Zuma’… in another Rational Standard posting, suggesting that the bigoted, aggressively intolerant mindset preventing progress towards a free and fair liberal democracy in SA is the same poison that has contributed to the election of Trump in the USA where voters have grown afraid and angry that large and increasing minorities are seeking to impose a retrograde ideology on the majority of that country and squash the existing culture.

        • Vicky

          Dan Roodt’s website has a 10+ year archive of PHENOMENAL writings. I am a white nationalist by the way, so my opinion is that whites in US/UK have seen what happened to whites in SA and are going to start turning to radical ideologies to stop this.

  • GustavSwart

    In principle, of course I agree… but in our simplistic, manichaean political milieu this would cost them a lot of votes as the DA would then be portrayed as being ‘pro-racism’ as opposed to ‘pro-free speech’.

    As an aside: despite the horrible cost to liberty and our body politic, it would be fun to watch this law being applied to people like Andile Mngxitama and Lindsay Maarsdorp.

    • The DA has since announced their opposition to the bill.

      • GustavSwart

        A rare moment of principle…though it will likely be spun to its detriment.