Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, John Jeffrey

Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, John Jeffery

For the first time, the government has given an indication of when it hopes South Africa’s hate crime legislation will move forward, with the intention of tabling the long anticipated bill in parliament next year.

This news emerged from a meeting – the first in a year – of the LGBTI National Task Team on hate crimes, which included civil society groups and government, on Wednesday in Pretoria.

The workshop was opened with an address by the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, John Jeffery, who stressed the importance of enacting hate crime legislation in South Africa.

He said that he hopes “that this policy can be put out in the public terrain for debate and discussion so that legislation criminalising hate crimes can be put to Parliament soon after next year’s elections”.

He admitted that “the tragic reality is that the existing legal protection has not filtered down to the level of everyday life” and that “the vast majority of LGBTI people in South Africa are still side-lined from accessing their rights because of stigmatisation, deep economic inequality, social isolation and cultural exclusion”.

Jeffery noted that at least 31 lesbian women had been murdered in South Africa since 1998 and admitted there were reports that “police officers themselves are the perpetrators of violence against LGBTI individuals”.

He argued that in cases where a large part of society holds stereotypical, prejudicial or discriminatory attitudes, the law “should be an activist vehicle which proactively sets out to bring about change and to change such societal attitudes”.

Jeffery said that hate crime legislation would allow the authorities to track the extent and impact of hate crimes and that it will also “send a clear message that hate crimes will not be tolerated in South Africa”.

In April, the task team came under fire from activists on the second anniversary of its formation for having failed to produce any visible results or having any impact on the spate of attacks against LGBTI people. Recent months, however, have seen renewed efforts to revive its work.

Ingrid Lynch from Triangle Project, who is attending the workshop, said that first day was well attended by government, and included a representative from the National House of Traditional Leaders.

She added on Facebook that that the proceedings had left her “feeling optimistic”.

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