Urgent need for hate crimes laws in South Africa


hate_crime_law_needed_in_south_africaCivil society organisations, under the umbrella of the Hate Crimes Working Group (HCWG), have reiterated the urgent need for specific laws to address hate crimes in South Africa.

In a statement, HCWG said that ongoing violence spurred by prejudice, from xenophobia to homophobia, is unlikely to abate without focused effort from all stakeholders.

The group explained that hate crimes are those committed against individuals because of a prejudice the perpetrator holds against an entire group of people – which is then channelled in violent acts towards an available victim.

The prejudice may be due to one or more traits for example, a person’s religious beliefs, nationality or sexual orientation. It cited two examples:

In February 2006 in Khayelitsha, Western Cape, 19-year-old Zoliswa Nkonyana – open in her community about her homosexuality – was stabbed and stoned to death by a group of young men, following taunts for ‘acting like a tomboy’.

In May 2013, in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape, 25-year-old Somali national Abdi Nasir Mahmood Good was stoned to death by a mob including school children, as he protected his shop from looters.

HCWG explained that enacting legislation recognising hate crime as a unique form of crime would allow government and civil society to monitor these kinds of crimes.

“The HCWG maintains specific legislation would enable government and civil society access to more reliable data regarding the frequency and severity of this type of violence… helping authorities to track trends of hate crimes across the country and thus be able to identify areas for intervention,” it said.

Legislation would also help recognise the social impact of hate crimes. Currently an assault motivated by a person’s race or sexual orientation, or the burning and looting of foreign nationals’ shops may be treated as an assault or public violence, without acknowledging the prejudice behind it.

“Addressing hate crimes consistently through the courts, public statements and other means would help send a clear message that hate crimes will not be tolerated and offenders cannot commit such crimes with impunity,” insisted HCWG.

The group also argues that hate crimes laws will allow for service providers, such as police officers, hospitals and clinic staff as well as court officials, to develop collaborative strategies to prevent or respond to hate crimes.

“For lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons, religious minorities, disabled persons refugees, and non-nationals living in South Africa and those attacked because of race, [their constitutional] equality can be realised by the extra protection given by virtue of their status as targets,” it added.

HCWG will present a brief outlining its call for hate crimes legislation at its Annual General Meeting on Wednesday 11 February in Cape Town. The Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, John Jeffery, is expected to be the key speaker.

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