Hundreds of Muslims, expected to march in central Cape Town on Thursday to protest against cartoons caricaturing the prophet Muhammad, would have to abide by strict conditions or face possible arrest, the City of Cape Town said.
The conditions were set in terms of a permit granted to the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) to march, stipulating regulations of the Gatherings Act 203 of 1993.
The caricatures, which were first published on the Danish Jyllands-Posten website and then reprinted in a number of European newspapers, have resulted in a major uproar in the Middle East, violent and sometimes deadly protests in several countries and a boycott of Danish goods.
Wilfred Solomons, of Cape Town’s disaster risk-management centre, said all participants in the march would have to remain unarmed and unmasked.
They were not allowed to incite any member of the public; were to refrain from arguing with people not participating in the march; and not utter hate speech.
“If the marchers burn the Danish flag or any other flag, it will constitute an unlawful act in terms of the statutory legislation, and offenders could be prosecuted in terms of the Criminal Procedures Act 51 of 1977,” said Solomons.
In terms of the permit, marchers would have to disperse by 2pm, after handing over a memorandum to a Danish government official in front of the City Hall.
On Wednesday, the MJC leadership met Danish ambassador Torben Brylle to discuss the worldwide furore caused by a Danish newspaper initially publishing the offensive cartoons, which were then reprinted elsewhere.
After this meeting, MJC president Sheikh Ebrahim Gabriels said Thursday’s march would be peaceful and not mimic similar protests internationally that have been marred by violence.
Cape Town marchers start gathering in Keizergracht Street, old District 6, before taking a circuitous route to the City Hall.
Anther march is planned for Pretoria on Friday.
The South African Cabinet has also entered the debate about the portrayal of the prophet Muhammad in cartoon form.
At a post-Cabinet briefing on Wednesday, government spokesperson Joel Netshitenzhe said the meeting of ministers noted developments — within South Africa and abroad — with regards to the “controversy surrounding the cartoon portrayal”.
Netshitenzhe said the government “acknowledges the hurt that this act has caused among Muslims in our country and across the globe, and we appreciate the fact that on the whole, South Africans affected by this development have sought to find one another in a spirit of mutual respect”.
South Africa upholds the principle of freedom of speech. “However, we do appreciate that our Constitution enjoins us in exercising this right to respect the sensitivities of individuals and communities and to eschew actions that may be interpreted as hate speech.”
Asked if newspapers should be allowed to publish such a cartoon, Netshitenzhe said this should be the responsibility of those who take such decisions, but on the proviso that this be done in terms of the Constitution and laws of South Africa.
The government is set to beef up security at Danish missions around the country, Business Day reported on Thursday.
The South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) reacted to the cartoon controversy in a statement on Thursday.
“As editors of leading South African media houses, we believe that we represent a long tradition of respect for the traditions and sentiments of the South African Muslim community in the same way as we respect the traditions and sentiments of other religious communities.
“Our media frequently carry the opinions of Muslim leaders and thinkers across a broad range of subjects and we are proud of the ties that exist between ourselves and this community.
“Equally, our media have always stood ready to defend the rights of Muslim citizens when these have been threatened. We commit ourselves always to act in this way, for all South African citizens.”
There is no tradition in the South African media of hostility or insult to Muslims or other faiths, the statement said.
“We therefore note with shock and dismay the attacks that have been launched against our newspapers and our colleagues in the wake of an international controversy concerning cartoons depicting [the] prophet Muhammad published in newspapers in Europe.
“Legal action has been taken to prevent publication of these cartoons here without any evidence that such publication was being planned. Newspaper vendors have been threatened with death as have editors and their staff. It is outrageous behaviour, we believe, from a small part of a solid and peace-loving community.”
The Sunday Times was banned from publishing the cartoons after a Muslim pressure group, Jamiat-ul Ulama, was granted a court interdict last weekend.
The Muslim group sought an interdict against Johncom Media and Independent Newspapers, among others, and said the cartoons were “deeply offensive”.
The Sanef statement continued: “We are determined to defend the right to free speech in South Africa. It is not just an editorial right, but a right that is owned by all the people, including the Muslim community. It is their shield against discrimination and tyranny and we as editors believe we have a sacred trust to defend it.
“It is extraordinary that without any intended insult in South African media, we face threats, intimidation and boycotts. We believe we have acted honourably and professionally with regard to the cartoons.
“We regard the interdict preventing publication of the cartoons as a threat to our freedom of speech and as a breach of the trust we have long assumed existed between our industry and the Muslim community.”
Plea for peace
Archbishop Desmond Tutu appealed on Thursday for Muslims to forgive the offence caused by the cartoons and reject violence.
Tutu, who remains a powerful international moral authority despite his retirement, expressed empathy with the anger caused by the publication in Europe of the cartoons, but said violent protests are unacceptable.
“We are in deep distress at what has proved to be offensive to our brothers and sisters of the Muslim faith,” he told a meeting of the All-Africa Conference of Churches in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.
“It is our message of hope that they will be able to find it within themselves in the end to forgive what has upset them,” Tutu said, noting that Christians would take offence at similar portrayals of Jesus Christ and Jews at Holocaust revisionism.
“Our hearts are pleading with them to be persuaded for peace,” said Tutu, who was in Nairobi for the launch of a “Desmond Tutu Centre” by the church conference. “If their protests [are to] continue, let them be peaceful and dignified.”