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Mon May 30 07:01:45 SAST 2016

Number of complaints to HRC suggest South Africa is becoming more racist

MATTHEW SAVIDES | 11 January, 2016 07:11

Image by: SUPPLIED

South Africa is becoming more racist if the number of complaints to the Human Rights Commission is anything to go by.

The commission has received an average of 30 complaints of "unfair discrimination based on race" a month for nearly a year.

The apparent increase in racism comes as moves are under way to criminalise racism.

Spokesman Dieketseng Diale says the average is expected to increase substantially in the wake of recent controversial Facebook and Twitter posts by retired estate agent Penny Sparrow, fitness instructor Justin van Vuuren, Gauteng sports department employee Velaphi Khumalo, economist Chris Hart and others.

She said from April to the end of last year, the commission had received 470 equality-related complaints, and almost 270 of them were about racist statements.

Two years ago, of the 493 complaints over the entire year, 291 were race-related.

"Race-related complaints comprise 58% of all equality-related complaints in the current year - and that excludes complaints received in January."

She said complaints lodged last week would push up the total.

Gauteng people submitted the most complaints at 121, followed by KwaZulu-Natal at 41, Western Cape 29 and Free State 25.

Overall, the commission received 3590 complaints from April to December last year, the majority (13%) being equality-related.

Mienke Steytler, SA Institute of Race Relations spokesman, said: "It does appear that there are more incidents of racism and racial outbursts in South Africa.

"One can always ask if it is because ... people are more aware that they can report, but that is more difficult to quantify."

She said many outbursts could be blamed on the economic situation.

"If we had policies that encouraged economic growth and access to the labour market ... people would be less bothered with one another as they would be happier."

Sello Hatang, Nelson Mandela Foundation CEO, said it was unclear if there were fewer racial outbursts in the past.

"Are we seeing a South Africa that is becoming more racist? Was it ever non-racist, this is the question we should be asking.

"Black people continue to have this thing they go through every day. Black people are reaching a point where this is too much now."

Steytler welcomed calls for the criminalisation of racism and glorification of apartheid.

"We cannot accept this in our country and people must realise they will be subject to the rule of law. The constitution is very clear on freedom of expression and its limitations," she said.

Lunga Peter, KwaZulu-Natal Law Society president, welcomed calls for the law to be tightened.

"Notwithstanding that South Africa has the most liberal constitution in the world which underpins the values of democracy, equality and freedom, including the freedom of expression, it is clear that our laws are not sufficient to address and curb the pockets of overt racist conduct manifested in [Sparrow's] post. We would accordingly urge the state urgently to pass specific legislation to criminalise such conduct."

But Hatang said Chapter 9 institutions needed more power to deal with racism.

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