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Op-eds

Hate speech and violence calls for swift action

  • AboveBoardShaunZagnoev (3)
Xenophobic violence against foreign nationals remains a serious problem in South Africa. Over the past decade, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD), with the assistance of the Jewish community as a whole, has on a number of occasions involved itself in relief efforts on behalf of victims of such unrest.
by SHAUN ZAGNOEV | Sep 05, 2019

Last week, our long-running hate-speech case against Cosatu’s (the Congress of South African Trade Unions’) Bongani Masuku was heard in the Constitutional Court. We are hoping for a ruling that will confirm our community’s inalienable right to speak out for and identify with Israel without being subjected to threats and intimidation. In standing up for Jewish civil rights, however, we shouldn’t lose sight of our greater duty to, in the words of our mission statement, be part of building a South Africa where everyone is free from the evils of prejudice, intolerance, and discrimination.

Responding this week to the latest upsurge of xenophobic violence, the board called on all leaders from across the political, religious, and social spectrum to speak out strongly against this persistent blight on our society. Specifically, we urged the government to take a stand against hate crimes of this nature, and to spur effective action for the future.

Stressing that words have immense power, we reiterated how crucial it is for political spokespeople in particular to use responsible language that does not inflame tensions and further divide communities. Our statement concluded by pointing out that the latest attacks had come just a few weeks after the lapsing of the Hate Crimes Bill, and they once again highlighted the urgent need for comprehensive legislation to prevent and combat all forms of prejudice and bigotry, including xenophobia.

This week, we also felt the need to comment on another deadly social ill in South Africa, namely the shockingly high levels of violence against women. With femicide rates five times higher than the global average, fear of gender-based violence is a grim daily reality for far too many in our country. Here, too, it’s the responsibility of government to take swift and decisive action to confront this scourge.

The picture is by no means all bleak. One of the strengths of South Africa today is its vigorous civil society, comprising many human rights and social-outreach organisations that work tirelessly to confront these problems on the ground. In our own community, the Union of Jewish Women has a long and honourable record of assisting victims of gender abuse, while more recently, Koleinu was established for the same purpose. We encourage those looking for ways to make a meaningful difference to support, and hopefully join such organisations. For its own part, the SAJBD, through its role in the Hate Crimes Working Group, continues to engage with women’s organisations, government, and parliament on these issues. Together with all South Africans, we need to take an uncompromising stand against sexism, chauvinism, and abuse, starting within our own communities.

  • Listen to Charisse Zeifert on Jewish Board Talk, 101.9 ChaiFM, every Friday from 12:00 to 13:00.

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