/ 29 April 2015

Nigeria group asks ICC to probe king’s ‘hate speech’

King Goodwill Zwelithini.
King Goodwill Zwelithini.

A Nigerian human rights organisation has asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague to investigate a complaint of hate speech against Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini.

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (Serap) also asked ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to investigate the alleged complicity or negligence of South Africa’s police in preventing the xenophobic attacks that it claimed resulted from Zwelithini’s comments.

In the petition, dated last Thursday, the organisation said it “considers the use of speech by the monarch to promote hatred and/ or incite violence against non-nationals such as Nigerians, particularly in the media, as a clear violation of the provisions of the Rome Statute of International Criminal Court.”

Zwelithini reportedly told a gathering in Pongola, northern KwaZulu-Natal in March that “foreigners must pack their bags and go home”.

A spate of xenophobic violence erupted in parts of KZN and Gauteng in April that left at least seven people dead and thousands displaced.

Zwelithini later lambasted the media for “choosing to deliberately distort what was an innocent outcry against crime and destruction of property”.  He blamed a “third force” for the violence.

Complicity or negligence
Serap said Zwelithini’s statements could not be justified under any law.

“This hate speech generated fear and hatred that created the conditions for violence and discrimination against Nigerians and other African citizens.”

It said crimes against humanity often followed remarks like Zwelithini’s.

“Once the climate of violence has been created, direct and public incitement to crimes builds on it, exacerbating the situation by further heating up passions and directing South Africans’ hatred towards non-nationals such as Nigerians,” Serap said.

It said it considered the apparent complicity or negligence by South Africa’s law enforcement agencies to be “active encouragement” of South Africans to develop feeling of contempt towards African citizens.

“The statement by the Zulu King and the apparent complicity/ negligence by the country’s law enforcement agencies to prevent the violence and discrimination have contributed to the level of persecution against Nigerians and other African citizens.

“The government does not have the political will to bring those suspected to be responsible for crimes under international law to justice. Given the complicity/ negligence by the country’s law enforcement agencies to prevent the violence, killing and discrimination, it is unlikely that the government will take any serious action to bring perpetrators to justice,” it said.

A recent statement from Nigeria’s foreign affairs ministry said Acting High Commissioner Martin Cobham and Deputy High Commissioner Uche Ajulu-Okeke had on Saturday been asked to return from South Africa to the country for consultations on the attacks.

The Department of International Relations issued a stern statement in response saying the withdrawal was “an unfortunate and regrettable step” and “curious”.

Spokesperson Clayson Monyela said, however, that South Africa remained committed to creating a strong bond and bilateral relations with Nigeria.

“It is for this reason that when 84 of our citizens perished on Nigerian soil, we did not blame the Nigerian government for the deaths and more than nine months delay in the repatriation of the bodies of our fallen compatriots, or for the fact that when these bodies eventually returned, they were in a state that they could not be touched or viewed as required by our burial practice,” said Monyela.

The 84 were part of a group of 116 that were killed when a guest house of the Synagogue Church of All Nations, headed by TB Joshua, collapsed in September last year.

On Tuesday, Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe reportedly distanced himself from the department’s statement, saying South Africa had cordial relations with Nigeria.

In 2012, the king got into hot water for reportedly saying those involved in gay relationships were “rotten” – this was also blamed on bad translation. – News24