By Owei Lakemfa
IF the famous Williams Shakespeare had written his 1596-99 play, Merchant of Venice in this generation, he would have been accused of hate speech, condemned, sidelined and declared a racist. That is because the play centred on a greedy and conscienceless Jewish money lender, Shylock, who insisted on slicing a pound of flesh from a debtor despite offers to pay him double the money he had advanced.
A similar scenario played out in South Africa on December 4 when the Supreme Court of Appeal, stopped some racists organised under the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, SAJBOD, from taking a pound of flesh from Bongani Masuku, Head, International Relations, Congress of South African Trade Unions, COSATU. This time, it was not about loans and repayment, but a brazen attempt to intimidate and stop Africans from condemning the racist Israeli genocide in the Middle East against the Palestinians and insisting on social justice for all human beings.
Of the three most enduring racist ideologies in human history, only Zionism which runs a praxis of Jewish superiority over all other human beings, continues to exist and expand like cancer. Nazism which claimed the superiority of the Aryan race over all human beings leading to the extermination of millions of Jews, died with Adolf Hitler. The other ideology in which Whites set themselves apart (apartheid) from other peoples in South Africa, was buried in 1994 with that country’s independence.
However, the Whites are still quite powerful in South Africa dominating lives and controlling the economy. So when COSATU condemned the 2009 massacre of Palestinians by the Zionist regime in Israel, the Jewish arms of the White supremacists were furious.
They thought the best way was a silence protest in South Africa against Israeli genocide by deliberately misapplying the law on hate speech. The issue had arisen following the December 2008 and January 2009 Israeli invasion of Gaza in which 1,391 Palestinians including 350 combatants and 318 children were killed. Thirteen Israelis including 10 soldiers, lost their lives. Israel disputed the figures saying the Palestinian death was 1,166 and that only 89 children had been killed.
The SAJBOD and the South African Zionist Federation, SAZF, issued a statement supporting the Israeli attacks on the Palestinians while 315 members of the South African Jewish Community issued a counter statement saying Israel had employed disproportionate force against the Palestinians. COSATU and the Palestine Solidarity Committee, PSC, led a protest march to the Johannesburg offices of the SAZF and SAJBOD.
An on-line verbal battle commenced with one post on February 6, 2009 saying: ‘Even when all the monkeys in COSATU have died of AIDS (even those who were cured by raping babies), I still won’t return (to SA). Jews should be in Israel supporting Israel – Friends – make Aliya! Do it!’ Another read: ‘Let us bombard the COSATU offices with phone calls to let them know our anger…Maybe we should start a policy that Israel-loyal Jews refuse to employ COSATU members in retaliation to COSATU’s evil actions.’
That day, Bongani responded:‘Hi guys, Bongani says hi to you all as we struggle to liberate Palestine from the racists, fascists and Zionists who belong to the era of their Friend Hitler! We must not apologise, every Zionist must be made to drink the bitter medicine they are feeding our brothers and sisters in Palestine. We must target them, expose them and do all that is needed to subject them to perpetual suffering until they withdraw from the land of others and stop their savage attacks on human dignity. Every Palestinian who suffers is a direct attack on all of us.’
At the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) on March 5, 2009 during the annual Israel-Apartheid Week, which emphasises the link between the twin racist ideologies, Bongani said: “ … COSATU has got members here on this campus, we can make sure that for that side, it will be hell … the following things are going to apply:
any South African family, I want to repeat it so that it is clear for everyone, any South African family who sends its son or daughter to be part of the Israeli Defence Force must not blame us when something happens to them with immediate effect … COSATU is with you, we will do everything to make sure that whether it is at Wits, whether it is at Orange Grove, anyone who does not support equality and dignity, who does not support the rights of other people must face the consequences …”
Drawing on its financial muscle and powerful connections, the SAJBOD on March 26, 2009 dragged Bongani and COSATU to the South African Human Rights Commission, SAHRC on the grounds that their condemnation of Israeli atrocities and support of the Palestinians amounted to hate speech. This ordinarily, would have been quite preposterous, but not in South Africa; the SAHRC agreed with the Zionists that Bongani’s statements amounted to hate speech and dragged him and COSATU to the Equality Court.
Bongani’s explanation included that his speech was directed at supporters of Israeli aggression who are not necessarily Jews but come from various ethnic and religious backgrounds. Secondly that his reference to Zionists was not to Jews, but to the ideology.
As we know, Zionism is the ideology that Jews are a superior race set aside by God as ‘His Chosen people’ and that God had given them dominion over the Palestine. While Israel claims that every Jew in the world has equal rights to be Israeli citizens, the reality is that non-Whites like the Falashas from Ethiopia and Jews from Yemen and other underdeveloped countries are treated as inferior citizens and even used as guinea pigs in medical experiments.
The Equality Court on June 29, 2017 found Bogani and COSATU guilty of hate speech, ordered them to tender an unconditional apology to the Jewish Community which must at least receive the same publicity as the offending statements.
The Supreme Court heard the appeal on November 13, 2018 and delivered judgement on December 4, 2018 upholding the appeal. It declared: “The fact that particular expression may be hurtful of people’s feelings, or wounding, distasteful, politically inflammatory or downright offensive, does not exclude it from protection. Public debate is noisy and there are many areas of dispute in our society that can provoke powerful emotions.
The bounds of constitutional protection are only overstepped when the speech involves propaganda for war; the incitement of imminent violence; or the advocacy of hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion, and that constitutes incitement to cause harm. Nothing that Mr. Masuku wrote or said transgressed those boundaries…” The Bongani Case strikes a powerful blow not just for freedom of expression but also social justice globally.