SAHRC: Hate speech cases spike

Hate speech cases increased to 22% of matters investigated, compared to 3% in the previous year.

The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) logo. Picture:

JOHANNESBURG - The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) on Monday said it had experienced an increase in cases related to racism on social media platforms.

Hate speech cases increased to 22 percent of matters investigated, compared to three percent in the same period last year.

SAHRC Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Kayum Ahmed warned social media users about the dangers of using derogatory terms that borderlines hate speech.

"There has been an interesting development over the past 21 years. Just after 1994, it was very difficult to find a racist anywhere in the country. Now we see that people are letting their guard down more as apartheid becomes a distant memory for many people."

Ahmed says social media rules are a double edged sword as there is no clear legislation to guide it.

"Social media becomes a safe space where people can articulate their feelings that they have been possibly harbouring for many years."

Last month, the SAHRC took Afrikaans singer Sunette Bridges to task for 'hosting' commentary on her Facebook page that constituted hate speech.

The matter was heard in the Equality Court, sitting in the Western Cape High Court, in Cape Town.

The commission wanted Bridges to apologise and remove the offending comments.

Bridges denied being guilty of hate speech with her lawyer telling Eyewitness News that it's impossible for his client to monitor posts made by others on her page.

"There is definitely case law evolving in the United Kingdom more than anywhere else in the world, which suggests that employers and employees can be held accountable for a personal statement made on Facebook. There is of course exceptions to the rule and we of course need to find a balance between freedom of expression and discriminatory postings," the SAHRC CEO said.