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Use of the word 'boesman' not hate speech, court finds

Staff Reporter

The use of the word "boesman" (bushman) by newspaper Die Burger is not derogatory hate speech, the Equality Court ruled in Cape Town on Friday. Kobus Faasen, an academic who says he is a descendant of the Khoisan people, had claimed the newspaper's use of the word in several articles was "contaminated with racism".

The use of the word “boesman” (bushman) by newspaper Die Burger is not derogatory hate speech, the Equality Court ruled in Cape Town on Friday.

Kobus Faasen, an academic who says he is a descendant of the Khoisan people, had claimed the newspaper’s use of the word in several articles was “contaminated with racism and more derogatory than the k-word”.

Magistrate James Lekhuleni said there was no evidence to show Die Burger had intended to “offend, demoralise or cause harm” to anyone, and had adhered to its code of conduct.

Lekhuleni said the San Council had testified that the use of the word is still a subject of debate, but that it has no objections to its use.

The council had said it was “at peace” with its use on condition it was in the right context.

Lekhuleni said the meaning of words can fluctuate with time. “In the future the San people might agree that the word is degrading; however that is not the case now.” he said.

“The defendant [Faasen] has raised an important issue,” Lekhuleni said.

After the ruling Faasen said he was disappointed and would appeal as he felt the court had “disregarded his etymology entirely”.

George Claasen, former ombudsman for Die Burger, said Faasen had lost the case because “he had no case”. “Banning the use of ‘boesman’ by the media will infringe on freedom of speech,” he said.

The newspaper always used the word in context, never “at random”.

The magistrate said in his ruling that Faasen believed “boesman” meant “orang-utan” or “worse than a baboon”.

However, a witness for Die Burger, historian Dan Sleigh, told the court Faasen had “intentionally misread the text”. Sleigh said “boesman” meant “people of the bushes”, in reference to the hunter-gatherer practices of the Khoisan people.

During the case Faasen accused Die Burger of “being a mouthpiece for the apartheid government”.—Sapa

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