Human Rights Commission tells municipal official to apologise to white South Africans

The SA Human Rights Commission has ordered the spokesperson for a Free State local municipality to apologise unconditionally to white South Africans after he posted an offensive picture on Facebook.

Steve Naale, spokesperson for the Ngwathe local municipality in Parys, posted the iconic photograph depicting the lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abraham Smith by the Ku Klux Klan in Indiana in the US in 1930 on the Facebook group page, “Ngwathe Online”. A caption accompanying the picture read: “Unless we want this under a white man’s rule, AGAIN.”

Outraged by his Facebook post, Western Cape resident, Elsie du Preez, hauled Naale before the SAHRC alleging that a direct insinuation of the picture and the caption was that whites in South Africa should be feared.

She asked the commission to charge Naale for hate speech and incitement of violence against white people.

According to her, the representation was “untrue and misleading” and that uninformed people who believed him “could be instigated to harm white people or hate them”.

Responding to her complaint, Naale told the commission that his Facebook post was in defence of the democratic system that was constantly under attack.

He said he posted the photograph after someone else made a racially offensive post on the same Facebook page.

According to SAHRC’s 32-page investigative report, Naale indicated that his post was not intended to cause any harm to white individuals or be interpreted to mean that white people should be feared but that “it served as a reminder about South Africa’s divided past”.

“The post served to provoke debate that would ensure that people from different races become more sensitive in situations where a black government is constantly under attack by individuals who continue to undermine democratic gains.

“If the complainant [Du Preez] lived in Parys, she would attest to the fact that the area is racially divided,” Naale argued.

He also believed that his authoritative position at the municipality “allowed him to engage in robust discussions with the intention of correcting narrow mindsets that are not benefitting our democracy”.

However, Du Preez was adamant that Naale’s actions could not be justified and that his post was not related to South Africa’s history.

She told the commission that a person in authority had no right to spread false information about minority groups in this country, as it was tantamount to an abuse of power.

She stated that Naale must acknowledge that he used a picture depicting the Ku Klux Klan “insinuating that these were white South Africans”.

The commission said that it could be reasonably concluded that the overall message that Naale’s Facebook post conveyed was that white people will torture black people again should the country fall under white rule and that “such brutality is an intrinsic characteristic of all white people”.

“The post is manifestly insensitive and offensive and has the potential to cause serious psychological and emotional harm. It contributes to the alienation of minority groups in the country and sends a potentially divisive message to the majority community,” the SAHRC said.

It said that the Facebook post and its accompanying caption “were discriminatory and undermine the dignity of the complainant and white South Africans”.

The commission recommended that both Naale and Du Preez attend a human rights sensitisation programme on race relations in South Africa.

Du Preez told the Mail & Guardian that she was very happy with the outcome of the case, adding: “I haven’t been on the Facebook page to see if he published an apology. If that doesn’t happen, then I haven’t achieved anything.”

Naale could not be reached for comment.

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Prega Govender
Prega Govender is the Mail & Guardians education editor. He was a journalist at the Sunday Times for almost 20 years before joining the M&G in May 2016. He has written extensively on education issues pertaining to both the basic and higher education sectors.

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