Earlier this year, I wrote an article called South Africa Blind-Sided. This article accused South Africans of allowing red herrings to distract them from policies, corruption, and more important issues. In recent days, an important document has been the focus of South Africa. The public protector’s State Capture Report outlines the corrupt links between Zuma and the Gupta family. It is a damning report, illustrating in 355 pages how pervasive corruption is in our country. The report is, without a doubt, extremely important, but it may also be a detriment to South African politics.

As my article from earlier this year indicated, South Africans have a hard time focusing on more than one thing. Media latches onto one issue and readers tend to ignore all other news. News of legislation, no matter how heinous, tends to be ignored as boring and unable to sell papers. Witch hunts against racists or a report that makes readers feel erudite are what the media like to post.

A few write and report on other issues, but this is just a drop compared to the tsunami of viral social media and the mainstream media outlets. So while everyone has been concerned with the State Capture Report, pretending to read it and acting like they’re surprised – people have been ignoring an even bigger threat.

The proposed Hate Speech Bill may pose one of the greatest threats to our freedom since 1994. But what has the media coverage been like? Of course, there have been reports. Commentators on and off Rational Standard have dealt with the bill. Rational writers have condemned it as unworkable, unethical and insane – while some insane individuals have come out in support of it. Yet the coverage of the bill in the media and on social media has been negligible.

The hashtag #StateCaptureReport far overwhelmed the few people who posted about #hatespeechbill. On PoliticsWeb, the only home page article dealing with the Hate Speech Bill was a Rational Standard post. It is far outnumbered by state capture articles.

Why the Hate Speech Bill is more important

Firstly, the bill is much more pressing. While the State Capture Report has no deadline for comment, the official time to comment on the bill ends on the 1st of December. After this time, barring any extensions, the public has no substantial influence on the bill. Regardless of the importance of the State Capture Report, the public and the media should apply the principle of triage and deal with the more urgent and pressing issue.

Additionally, the State Capture Report is not fundamentally ground-breaking to those who follow the news. We’ve known that Zuma and the Gupta family have been in a corrupt relationship for years now. This new knowledge will hopefully enlighten the unconvinced or the ignorant. If there’s a miracle, the finding may even lead to justice – but I doubt it. Rather, the report has served as a convenient way for many lazy South Africans to act like they are politically erudite and active.

On the other hand, the Hate Speech Bill has practical ramifications that need to be averted. The crucial bit of the bill is as follows:

“4. (1) (a) Any person who intentionally, by means of any communication whatsoever, communicates to one or more persons in a manner that –advocates hatred towards any other person or group of persons; or

(ii) is threatening, abusive or insulting towards any other person or group of persons, and which demonstrates a clear intention, having regard to all the circumstances, to –

(aa) incite others to harm any person or group of persons, whether or not such person or group of persons is harmed; or

(bb) stir up violence against, or bring into contempt or ridicule, any person or group of persons, based on race, gender, sex, which includes intersex, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, religion, belief, culture, language, birth, disability, HIV status, nationality, gender identity, albinism or occupation or trade, is guilty of the offence of hate speech.”

The crucial aspect of the bill is that it bars speech which ridicules, rather than actually harms people. This is coupled with bizarre victim categories such as occupation and language. This bill could effectively make lawyer jokes a punishable offence. Comedians will start needing to charge danger pay, as one joke could land them in jail.

The media, commentators, and social media should be ablaze with criticisms of it, in order to encourage public condemnation so as to weaken or crush it. With everyone focusing on the report, this isn’t happening.

Lastly, while corruption is a problem and state capture is drastically undemocratic, the Hate Speech Bill verges on totalitarianism. It makes the worlds of Fahrenheit 451 and 1984 more than just classic dystopias, but a very real possibility. The ability to convict people on as ludicrous grounds as insulting a profession should be a nail in the coffin already. The fact that the ambiguity of the bill could be used to arrest state detractors is a slippery slope right down the road to serfdom. Yeah, corruption is bad, but I’d rather live in a corrupt state than a totalitarian one.

Fundamentally, however, it isn’t a dichotomy. South Africans should be able to focus on both. Yet, why aren’t they? Is it that people actually support the bill, so the media feels it fine to ignore it? Are bills, as I mentioned earlier, too boring to the public?

The regressive threat

There does seem to be a level of public support for the bill. This is led by the regressive left and guilt-ridden “empathetic” individuals who truly think that the bill is trying to avert real hate speech. The propaganda campaigns by these elements have construed the bill as a non-issue and something good.

It is very easy for them to distract people away from the bill. In addition to the reasons above, it is also because the corruption found in the State Capture Report is more tangible. Monetary figures, corrupt officials, people’s names – are all simple to understand. For the bill, one needs to understand ideas and ideology. One needs to be versed in liberal theory and the virtues of free speech, the ramifications of bad laws and the process of dealing with bills. It is all very complicated, which draws away a lot of public attention.

But this shouldn’t be an excuse for intellectuals and commentators. The complication of the Hate Speech Bill should be addressed, like how many of my fellow writers have been doing, in simplifying and publicising it. Only then can it be digestible by the general public.

Conclusion

The State Capture Report is important for the eventual demise of Zuma and a large chunk of corruption in this country, but the public’s focus on it unfortunately distracts from the harsher issue of the Hate Speech Bill. This unfortunate focus on the report rather than the bill is impractical and dire.

The Hate Speech Bill, if passed, will threaten the fundamental freedoms of our country. Corruption is bad, but someone can still be free and prosperous in a corrupt country. A country where thought and speech is illegal is intolerable. Hopefully, South Africans wake up and redirect or at least share their focus with the much greater and more dangerous issue.

Please consider commenting officially on the bill here.

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.