An article was recently written on Daily Maverick by Minister of Communications, Faith Muthambi. The article speaks of the government’s proposed new plan to ‘regulate’ racist comments on websites as part of South Africa’s new self-righteous fad of criminalising racism. It seems that the idea of ‘criminalising racism’ has come about due to what minister Muthambi calls ‘The eruption of racism at the beginning of this year.’ I would estimate that she refers to: Chris Hart’s tweet (which had no reference to race and merely made a true, yet politically incorrect statement), Penny Sparrow’s post (which was indeed very racist) and Gareth Cliff’s comment (which consisted of the words ‘People don’t understand free speech at all.’)
While the internet is a lovely place for people to express controversial views behind the safety of their computer, it is true that the comment sections on some sites can become a breeding ground for bigotry of every imaginable kind. The nice thing about websites with comment sections is that the admins of the sites themselves can decide on their own comment policy instead of having an interventionist government censor for them. YouTube channels even have the option of removing the ability to comment on one’s video and not surprisingly so. While I personally think that it is quite intellectually dishonest to censor one particular kind of view on a site meant for discussion, I would defend the right of the site admins to treat comments however they wish and do so to their own detriment.
Conversely, having a blanket government policy across all internet users in South Africa would be like removing a brain tumour with a guillotine. I think there are four main issues here:
‘Racism’ is very badly defined in South Africa
Exactly what is and isn’t ‘racist’ seems to now be a matter of personal opinion. For a long time, the term referred to any sort of prejudice against someone purely based on their race. I personally operate on the definition: Making a judgement about someone based purely on their race without any evidence. That seems to be a well-rounded and inclusive definition, however, the problem we face is the continuous re-definition of what it means to be ‘racist’ by critical theorists to the extent that people genuinely believe that you cannot be racist to white people.
I shall deal with exactly why these new definitions are wrong in another article at some point, but for now we need to recognise that it is legally incoherent to criminalise something for which there is no definition. Imagine if the DA were prosecuted for their billboard in Johannesburg, which the ANC claimed was racist. The billboard had no references to race at all, but if the ruling party gets their way, we could be in for actual prosecution of opposition parties because the ANC has distorted our very legal system. This would be utterly catastrophic in any free society.
The government should not censor any exchange of information
The freedom of the internet is something we are very fortunate to have in the 21st century as we can constantly rely on it as a source of outside information. It allows us to hear second opinions and learn about new ideas from around the world. It’s no doubt that the oppressive governments of countries like China, Turkey, Burma, Cuba and Saudi Arabia censor the internet and the Stalinist hermit kingdom of North Korea makes it virtually inaccessible.
If government intervention is allowed on our internet, we could be heading down a very slippery slope of censorship. Our government is notorious for using their political power to get away with the most heinous crimes and because of this, I would be very reluctant to give them any sort of censorship powers under the badly-defined guise of ‘eradicating racism’. I see no reason to head down the path that gives the ANC even more power to potentially cover up their crimes.
Fairly recently, F.W. de Klerk submitted a list of 45 instances of racism by black people from around the internet. These instances included things as vile as calls to kill whites in an act of genocide and threats to rape white women among other despicable things. De Klerk was hugely criticised for doing this by hardline Bikoist zealots who predictably blamed apartheid.
The fact is there is a constant stream of hateful things said by supporters of our political Left. One only needs to look at the comments on an EFF facebook post to see this. In addition to this, our very own government officials seem to be able to get away with saying such things. Gauteng MEC Velaphi Khumalo got suspended with pay after a Facebook post in which he called for genocide to be committed against white people in South Africa. How he was not fired is beyond my comprehension. If the government is so concerned about racism on the internet, they need to start solving the problem within their own party.
Criminalising something doesn’t get rid of it
By now, society has amassed huge amounts of evidence to show that the criminalisation of something only creates more crime. The United States’ War on Drugs has produced the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world. For health reasons, I have never smoked nor taken any drugs, but as someone who has just matriculated I can confirm that had I wanted to get hold of any drugs, legal or illegal, there would have been little in the way of legal force to stop me.
It might seem strange to compare the drugs to racism, but the effect remains the same. If the government wants to criminalise racism and censor the internet, they will achieve nothing that they originally set out to do. All that will happen is we will have even more people with potentially life-ruining criminal records and a less-free internet.
The proposal to criminalise racism in South Africa is an ill-conceived piece of nonsense that fails to actually reduce or eradicate racism, infringes on the rights and liberties of non-racist South Africans and promises to keep the courts busy for decades dealing with the problems inherent in trying to criminalise something which is not strictly defined. It is an utterly horrendous idea and if minister Faith Muthambi gets her way, could lead us down a slippery slope of censorship and grant the ANC yet another political tool to cover up heinous crimes committed by their top brass. I have very little faith in Faith.