Deafening Official Silence on Hate Crimes Leaves Targets Vulnerable to Attack

Article excerpt

BYLINE: Melanie Judge and Juan Nel

In stark contrast with policy and legislative guarantees for human rights, prejudice-motivated hate speech and discrimination are endemic to the South African landscape.

One form of such discrimination is hate crime.

A hate crime is a criminal act motivated by prejudice that is committed against people, property or organisations because of the group which the targets of the crime belong to or identify with.

Perpetrators seek to demean and dehumanise their victims, whom they consider different from them based on actual or perceived race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, disability, health status, nationality, social origin, religion or other characteristic.

The message conveyed with a hate crime has an impact beyond the direct victim of the crime. Other individuals from the targeted group may similarly be left feeling isolated, intimidated and under threat. Communities are seen as endorsing hate crimes when they remain silent, or fail to act or support the survivors.

In this sense, indifference and silence create the breeding ground for hate-based crime.

Institutionalised discrimination under apartheid and colonialism form the backdrop for prejudice-motivated crimes in South Africa. The violence that was inherent to both these systems of domination, and their emphasis on difference, is an enduring legacy in post-apartheid times.

Identity markers such as nationality, race, gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation are anchoring points for social power and the perpetuation of difference.

South Africa is a highly patriarchal society. Gender-based violence and discrimination serve to assert and maintain hetero-normative gender roles and sexuality. The recent rape and killing of black lesbian women in our townships bears testimony to this reality.

Hate-based attacks in South Africa have been underpinned by racism, sexism, homophobia and/or xenophobia. Multiple discriminations may render persons, by virtue of their identities, more susceptible to such discrimination.

Foreign nationals, lesbian women, gay men, transgender people, and people living with HIV/Aids, are some of the groups that are at risk of being targeted for prejudice-motivated crimes.

In South Africa, hate crimes occur in a reality of deeply rooted poverty and a formal economy which excludes the majority of the population. Economic exclusion creates the conditions for prejudice-related violence to take root as a way of articulating very real frustrations through scapegoating already stigmatised groups.

Hate crimes most often occur in contexts of sustained prejudice-motivated victimisation, including hate speech and bullying. Such crimes are the extreme side of a continuum/trajectory that starts with "socially acceptable" name-calling and humiliation of certain people.

The recent homophobic article published by the Sunday Sun, written by Jon Qwelane, is a case in point. …