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

Nicholas Woode-Smith is co-founder of the Rational Standard and its Technical and Marketing Director. He is a student at the University of Cape Town, with majors in Politics, Philosophy and Economic History. He is the youngest council member of the Institute of Race Relations in history and the Regional Director of Southern Africa for African Students For Liberty. He also writes science fiction – prominently, the Warpmancer and Cape Zero series.