The Constitution of South Africa has until now protected our fundamental human rights. These basic rights included the freedom of expression and the freedom to practice a religion of your choice. In October 2016, without warning or public consultation, government announced plans to implement new legislation in the form of the “Hate Speech” and “Commercialization of Religion” bills, which will severely restrict the very freedoms that we as South African citizens have always enjoyed.These bills are now being fast-tracked and the public was given only one month to respond!
What do these bills mean for us as South African citizens and what agenda lies behind the rush to have these laws put in place?
The “Commercialization of Religion” bill will result in a body being set up to monitor and regulate all religious practices in the country. All churches and religious groups will be forced to register with this committee. This panel will then decide who can and cannot practice which religion and when and where they will be allowed to do so – and how they will do so. Any religious groups wishing to retain their independence rather than adhere to a “state religion,” may be forced to cease their religious practices by being threatened with legal action.
Should a religious group speak out against unjust laws or immoral practices, it may be decided that their form of religion is “illegal,” and they may be ordered to cease to express such opinions or face prosecution and a lengthy prison sentence.
The “Hate Speech” bill is so loosely defined that almost any personal opinion an individual expresses could classed as “hate speech.” Should there be a need to silence an individual or a group of people who were not in agreement with decisions made by those in power, all that would be needed is for someone to make an accusation against the person(s) concerned. Should they be found guilty (which it is very likely they would be), they would face a prison sentence of up to 3 years! If a person persisted in speaking out, a second conviction would result in a 10-year sentence for a second “offence”!
Not only does the “Hate Speech” bill restrict verbal communication, but the bill also makes mention of all written and electronic material that would be deemed as “unsuitable” by those in control. Unbiased journalism and news reports would be a thing of the past, as state censorship would ensure that only “news” okayed by the “powers that be” would be released for public consumption.
With elections not far away, the public could be forgiven for assuming that those in power are doing all they can to ensure that any competition to their retention of power is removed prior to a free and fair election process taking place. We as South African now find ourselves walking the narrow line between democracy and dictatorship.
The undeniable trend towards socialistic policies on the part of the government, which we as South Africans are currently witnessing, is the cause of great fear, uncertainty and unrest amongst citizens at grassroots levels. We question whether those making decisions on our behalf still serve the people who elected them in order that they would serve our best interests.