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'Demeaning, racial material' undermines ANC voters' rights

Sapa

The ANC has requested that the SAHRC investigate "insulting" online content, saying the material threatens the constitutional rights of its voters.

The ANC said that the 'demeaning, racial material and insulting media commentary' undermined the constitutional rights of ANC voters. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

The ANC on Wednesday lodged a formal complaint with the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) over a “racist” and “insulting” cartoon, a tweet, and a published comment by the public protector.

“Since the fifth democratic elections were held on May 7, there has been [an] unprecedented public onslaught directed at the great majority of those who turned out to ... elect the government of their choice, in this instance the ANC,” the party’s chief whip Stone Sizani wrote in his official complaint to the SAHRC. 

He said that the “demeaning, racial material and insulting media commentary” undermined the constitutional rights of ANC voters. Sizani requested that the commission investigate a cartoon published on the Eyewitness News (EWN) website, a picture tweeted by Democratic Alliance (DA) MP Mike Waters, and comments made last month by public protector Thuli Madonsela, which were published by the Star on Independent Online.

The DA has been slow to act to the derogatory tweet, saying it will revisit its social media policy despite the document already prohibiting the tweet.

When asked to respond to the ANC’s move to lodge a complaint, DA national spokesperson Phumzile van Damme said: “Mike has admitted he was wrong. He took remedial action. Also, he was not the originator of the photo, he merely tweeted it, which, of course, was wrong. Taking this to the HRC is a bit like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.”

She stood by the party’s earlier statement that Waters had “apologised profusely for the tweet”. 

“He has agreed that it was ill-considered, offensive and deleted it,” she said

Late last month, the ANC held a protest march after EWN posted a cartoon, titled “Congress of Clowns. And the clowns who voted them in” on its website. The cartoon depicts two groups of clowns, one identified as the newly appointed ministers shown with big red noses and the other group identified as voters accompanied by a description reading “we the poephols”.

EWN, Primedia and the cartoon’s creators Dr Jack & Curtis subsequently apologised. Following these apologies, ANC spokesperson Keith Khoza said the party would take no further action. “We will leave it to Primedia to deal with the matter internally. They have apologised and we are happy they are dealing with it,” he said at the time. 

‘Persisting racism’
However, in his human rights complaint, Sizani said that while the creators of the cartoon had apologised, “the cartoon represents the persisting racism, violation of inherent human rights and dignity within our society, and should therefore be subjected to a formal investigation”. 

The party’s hope was that this would dissuade others from creating similar material, he said. “This will also afford the commission an opportunity to provide the public with an authoritative guidance on such matters for future reference.” 

The ANC’s complaint was also directed at a picture that the DA’s Waters tweeted this week, which showed a pack of dogs lining up to urinate on a photograph of Jacob Zuma that was placed against a tree. 

“The picture is highly demeaning [and] racist,” said Sizani in the complaint. After the tweet was posted on Monday, Waters subsequently deleted the image and apologised on the social network, Twitter. 

In the complaint to the commission, Sizani said that Water’s influential position had to be taken into account, as his “conduct has the potential to stoke racial intolerance, hatred and prejudice”. Sizani said that the commission needed to investigate the matter in order to send a strong message condemning racism to “Mr Water’s ilk” and the Democratic Alliance, which the ANC said had not taken action against him. 

Madonsela: ANC voters are like an abused spouse
The third complaint related to an article published online in which Madonsela compares ANC voters to an abused spouse. The Star article reported that at a University of Johannesburg function, Madonsela said South Africans did not vote for the current government because they endorsed maladministration, but because they hoped that things would change. 

“Abused women don’t stay because they enjoy the abuse, they stay because they hope things will change,” she was quoted as saying at the time. “The comments by ... Madonsela ... are highly unjustifiable for a person in her position,” said Sizani in his SAHRC complaint. 

“The metaphorical comparison used by the public protector to mock the voters is also offensive to many women who bear the brunt of sexual or gender violence.” Sizani said in his complaint that he believed these three “attacks” violated the right to freedom of association, political choice and dignity of ANC voters. 

Responding to the submission of the complaint, DA spokesperson Phumzile van Damme said that Waters had admitted that his tweet was “ill-conceived and offensive and had apologised profusely”. 

She said that “given the huge case load of the commission, this might be a little bit of an excessive action”. Responding to the ANC’s concerns that the party had not dealt seriously enough with the incident, Van Damme said: “Waters had apologised to the party and we are reviewing our social media policy to make sure this doesn’t happen again”. 

Meanwhile, EWN editor-in-chief Katy Katopodis said that the decision of the ANC to lay the complaint had been noted. “They are well within their rights. The process just needs to take its course.” Oupa Segalwe from the public protector’s office said the office would comment on the matter shortly. – Sapa, additional reporting by Verashni Pillay

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