NG Kerk sê PEPUDA wysigingswetsontwerp bedreig demokrasie en vryheid
Hierdie is ‘n media-verklaring deur dr Gustav Claassen, algemene sekretaris van die NG Kerk se Algemene Sinode. Die teks is in Engels omdat die verklaring in vennootskap met ander rolspelers uitgereik word.
PEPUDA 2021 Amendment Bill
The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development recently published the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act (Act 4 of 2000 and known as PEPUDA) amendment Bill for public comment.
The deadline for submissions was originally 12 May 2021 – although several organisations have received an extension until 30 June 2021 to deliver comments on the proposed amendments which present, collectively, a sharp and highly concerning departure from the current PEPUDA.
Through the PEPUDA Amendment Bill, government is seemingly trying to reintroduce the Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill, which faced stiff opposition from civil society back in 2016-2018. The Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) declared unconstitutional the hate speech provision contained in the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act (PEPUDA).
On 29 November 2019, the Supreme Court of Appeal in the appeal to the Qwelane Equality Court case in Qwelane v South African Human Rights Commission 2020 2 SA 124 (SCA), handed down a pivotal judgment declaring section 10(1) of the PEPUDA unconstitutional and invalid (Qwelane SCA paras 1, 36). In the court’s view the provision as it stood contradicted the right to freedom of speech as envisaged in section 16 of the Constitution. The court held that the provision was “overbroad” and that it unjustifiably limited the right to freedom of expression.
The result of the SCA judgment is that Parliament must within eighteen months of the judgment amend the wording of section 10(1) of the PEPUDA in order to remedy the defect and in the interim the Supreme Court of Appeal ordered that courts must apply the following amended wording of section 10(1):
No person may advocate hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender, religion or sexual orientation and that constitutes incitement to cause harm.
This interpretation endorses the Constitutional meaning of hate speech. In order to succeed in hate speech claims the victims must on a balance of probabilities prove that the offending statement qualifies as hate speech. The SCA also referred the order to the Constitutional Court for confirmation of the order of constitutional invalidity. Having heard the parties’ submissions, the court reserved judgment and is now tasked with making a determination and striking a balance between two important rights: freedom of expression, and prohibition of hate speech.
THE VAGUE AND OVERBROAD DEFINITION OF” DISCRIMINATION” IN PEPUDA
Both PEPUDA and its proposed amendment are deeply problematic and constitutionally questionable.
Legal experts have raised concerns which are directed at the broad scope and interpretation of the Act and more particularly the definition of ‘discrimination and equality’. The result of such overbroad and vague language or definition of ‘discrimination’ would be to have a negative effect on the right to freedom of expression (with reference to section 16 of the Constitution, as well as section 10 of PEPUDA) and may render the section unconstitutional as a result.
This section also provides for an exemption clause for bona fide engagements (subject to section 16 of the Constitution). The amendment act requires intent, and the proposed expanded definition of ‘discrimination’ clearly removes the requirement of intent. Should an act by someone, therefore, be exempted by section 12 or do not constitute hate speech as per section 10, it may still be found to be discriminatory, defeating the purpose of these provisions.
When it comes to liability, intent is important. In relation to utterances that may constitute hate speech, the test to assess whether an utterance could be interpreted as conveying a clear intention to do harm as envisaged in section 10(1) of the PEPUDA, is an objective test, and subjective intention is irrelevant. The test must be whether actions or utterances could be reasonably construed to demonstrate a clear intention to ‘incite harm’.
The Amendment Bill, importantly, removes the necessity of unfair discrimination being intentional. This is plainly unconstitutional. Discrimination is by nature always intentional. One cannot accidentally discriminate. To discriminate is to choose one alternative over another, and there is no such thing as an unintentional choice.
The bill redefines the terms “equality” and “discrimination” to be much broader. Specifically, the bill proposes to amend the definition of “discrimination” to make it clear that it is not necessary for a person to act with intention before they can be found guilty of unfair discrimination.
Section 9 of the Constitution already recognises the existence of indirect unfair discrimination. PEPUDA already makes provision for the prohibition of unfair indirect discrimination, but the Amendment Bill adds the preposterous prohibition of unintentional discrimination.
Above debated critique must be seen against the backdrop of the fact that the main purpose of the Act is to realise the constitutional right to equality so that people do not face unfair discrimination by either the state or anyone else.
According to some legal experts the bill may have major consequences, including:
- The definition of ‘equality’ has been broadened to include equal rights and access to resources, opportunities, benefits, and advantages.
- The draft legislation departs from the fault requirement found throughout South African law by creating liability for unintentional acts or omissions which cause prejudice to or undermine the dignity of a person. Privately, commercially, and socially, people discriminate. This is not only a reality, but an important aspect of liberty. People who do not wish to associate with one another, for whatever reason, no matter how irrational, ought not be forced to associate.
- It will make persons vicariously liable for contraventions of the act performed by their workers, employees, or agents. This would include discrimination, hate speech and harassment. Many harmless interactions may, selectively and opportunistically, come to be regarded as unfair discrimination if the bill is adopted. While it may not immediately be clear, this new conceptualisation effectively turns every potential social interaction into a legally punishable affair.
- Most troubling, it is a recipe for selective, arbitrary application and a perversion of sound anti-discrimination principles. Since practically everyone may be found to be guilty of unintentional unfair discrimination in all circumstances, anti-discrimination institutions such as the Human Rights Commission might focus on those with whom they have an unrelated, and sometimes historical, quarrel, like unpopular advocacy groups.
- A series of hefty obligations will be placed on non-governmental organisations, traditional leaders and institutions, community organisations, religious organisations and the executive will be empowered to create codes to regulate these sectors. Government ministers will be empowered to discriminate between people, companies, and organisations depending on their size, resources and influence. The bill, perversely, effectively outlaws ordinary, normal, private discrimination, whilst allowing impermissible State discrimination. A curious double standard: The State may discriminate (clearly unfairly), but ordinary South Africans may not.
- The Amendment Bill will also empower ministers to prescribe regulations and “codes of practice” for all manner of civil society formations, including non-governmental organisations and private businesses. These regulations and codes will force these entities to “promote equality”. But the bill redefines equality into a concept loaded with ideological preconceptions, such as equality now also meaning “equal access to resources, opportunities, benefits, and advantages”.
- It requires the state to overhaul all laws, policies, codes, practices, and structures which do not conform to the newly proposed definitions of equality and discrimination. Unless a form of objective test will be applied in determining cases of ‘discrimination’ – it will result in a floodgate of claims, rendering the Act unenforceable and possibly unconstitutional.
The PEPUDA Amendment Bill falls foul of too many constitutional standards to mention, including the rights to equality, freedom of expression, association, and opinion. Like the Hate Speech Bill before it, this legislation represents an existential threat to democracy and freedom in South Africa and must be opposed on that basis.