War Against Racism: SAHRC To Host Hearing On Racism And Social Media


As a way of addressing issues related to racism among South Africans on social media, the South African Human Right Commission (SAHRC) will on Wednesday, February 15, host a two-day national hearing on racism and social media in Braamfontein, Johannesburg.

The hearing which is intended to discuss allegations of racism that arise on social media, and build on the commission’s approach to issues of racial discrimination and social cohesion, will have policymakers, researchers and civil society organisations make necessary submissions on racial related issues.

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The commission’s decision to launch this hearing follows several incidents of racism on social media which have been reported in the media and have caused an uproar in the country. It also follows submissions by the FW de Klerk Foundation on racism and social media in South Africa.

In a recently released statement, the SAHRC said: “During the 2015/2016 financial year, the Commission received 505 race-related complaints. This is indicative of the fact that despite the significant achievements over the past 23 years of democracy, deep inequalities and unfair discrimination remain a serious concern.”

Lawrence Mushwana, chairman of the commission’s hearings into transformation at universities in South Africa, however, noted earlier that these cases were not only in universities

Part of the issues that will be on the spotlight during the SAHRC hearing will include Social media in South Africa as many incidents have been highly publicised and point to the evolving challenges in addressing racism in contemporary South Africa.

“[The commission] does not identify ‘social media’ as a specific category in classifying human rights complaints it receives; however, social media is increasingly being cited as a ‘location’ in which race-based equality complaints arise.  Recent incidents on social media platforms thus illustrate the urgent need for intervention and leadership in confronting discrimination and issues related to the right to equality – and by extension, racism,” SAHRC stated.

The hearing panel will include Chairperson of the SAHRC Advocate Bongani Majola, responsible for the Equality portfolio; Commissioner Angie Makwetla, who leads the SAHRC’s Children’s Rights portfolio; and former Constitutional Court Justice, Albie Sachs, who will assist the SAHRC as an external panelist.

The purpose of the National Hearing is to arrive at an understanding of what constitutes racism in the context of social media, who should be held accountable, and to what extent.

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A number of South Africans – including Ben Sasonof, Jessica Leandra Dos Santos, Penny Sparrow, Chris Hart, Justin Van Vuuren and Carron Nadauld Gouws – had on different occasions spiked off violence in the country when they made unflattering, derogatory and sometimes racist remarks on Facebook and other social media platforms.

Most of the comments were made in 2016 and the SAHRC has been investigating a series of complaints surrounding these remarks.

To this, FW de Klerk foundations spokesperson, Dr Theuns Eloff said the largely positive relations between people are disrupted by jarring and painful incidents that have the prospect, through the ease of use of social media to go viral and stir up deep emotions, as has been evident more recently.

Any and all racist references must be treated equally and uncompromisingly and racism is not limited to one race group, but has its invidious presence amongst black and white, he said