SOUTH Africa needs a legal framework to deal with numerous incidents of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and other intolerant behaviour , Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development John Jeffery said on Monday.
“Hatred kills. At the heart of the things we are trying to end, things like xenophobia, racism, homophobia, discrimination and prejudice, lies hatred. No government plan, law or policy can change the human heart but we can put in place measures and initiatives that send a clear signal that says racism, discrimination and prejudice will not be tolerated,” Jeffery told delegates at a consultative summit on government’s national action plan (NAP) to counter intolerance in its diverse forms in Pretoria.
“We can put in place measures and initiatives that foster understanding, awareness and respect for human rights. We can put in place measures and initiatives for an environment conducive to tolerance. That is why we need a national action plan. That is why we need your input. The national action plan needs to work and that is why we need your input. This is why these provincial consultations and the overall consultation process is so important.”
He said the office of the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights has issued guidelines to States on how to go about the process of drawing up national action plans to combat racism.
The summit on Monday coincided with the annual commemoration of the World Refugee Day which raises awareness on the problems faced by refugees, including discrimination, xenophobia and other intolerance.
The draft NAP was approved the South African cabinet in December 2015 and has been available for public comment since December 18 last year, said Jeffery.
“Our department would like to correct an inaccuracy that appeared in the media that erroneously stated that the department has given members of the public one month to comment on the draft national action plan. The correct position is that the draft NAP was approved by Cabinet on 9th December last year and has been available on the departmental website for public comment since the 18th of December 2015. Subsequent to that, the department held a national consultative dialogue this year in Cape Town where the draft NAP was officially launched and marked the official launch of all the public consultation processes,” said Jeffery.
He said that launch was attended by representatives of the judiciary, chapter nine institutions, civil society, and the private sector.
The justice department is currently embarking on provincial consultations as the last phase of the public consultation process, which runs until the end of this month.
Once finalized, the NAP will be valid for five years and renewed on an annual basis. Those who did not make input can still provide contributions to the NAP during the annual renewal processes.
Last month, the South African cabinet strongly condemned the blatant racism that was displayed by some individuals in the country, particularly on social network platforms.
“Such behaviour goes against the ethos of our Constitution, enshrined responsibilities and values, and violates the rights of our people,” the cabinet said in a statement after a fortnightly meeting.
In particular, the cabinet lamented the racist comments attributed to a senior member of the Judiciary, high court judge Mabel Jansen.
In a Facebook conversation with social justice activist Gillian Schutte last month, Jansen posted messages suggesting that rape is an ingrained part of black people’s culture.
Jansen’s comments sparked outrage from members of the legal fraternity, political parties, and ordinary South Africans.
Justice and Correctional Services Minister Michael Masutha granted Jansen special leave following widespread complaints over her remarks.
Jansen’s comments have added fuel to a new wave of racial tension that has gripped South Africa since the beginning of this year when Penny Sparrow, an estate agent, labelled black revelers on public beaches in Durban during the New Year as “monkeys”.
South Africa’s ruling African National Congress laid charges of crimen injuria against Sparrow and other individuals for promoting racism on social media.
South Africa has also experienced numerous waves of xenophobic attacks targeted mainly at fellow Africans fleeing war, poverty, and discrimination in their home countries.
Last year, after waves of xenophobic violence, the South African government’s Inter-Ministerial Committee on Migration said a crime combating blitz code-named Operation Fiela led to over 9 000 arrests and the repatriation of over 15 000 undocumented immigrants.
The state security operation was widely criticised by civic society as “state-sponsored xenophobia”. It was launched by government following a spate of xenophobic attacks which left at least seven people dead in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal. Numerous criminal cases were opened after the xenophobic attacks. – ANA