/ 23 August 2019

AfriForum, Ernst Roets facing contempt of court proceeding over apartheid flag tweet

Ernst Roets
Ernst Roets, AfriForum's deputy chief executive. (Paul Botes/M&G)



AfriForum and its deputy chief executive, Ernst Roets, are facing contempt of court proceedings after Roets tweeted an image of the apartheid flag mere hours after the equality court in Johannesburg ordered that the gratuitous display of the flag amounts to hate speech.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation’s Sello Hatang said in urgent court papers filed on Friday that the “unmistakable intent” of the tweet was to “mock and provoke all those South Africans — black and white — who were celebrating the judgment, and felt vindicated and protected by the judgment.”

The foundation has asked the court to call on Roets and AfriForum to appear before it and tell the court why they should not be held in contempt; and in Roets’s case — why he should not be imprisoned for contempt.

The judgment of Deputy Judge President Phineas Mojapelo was handed down on Wednesday and declared that gratuitous displays of the apartheid flag constitutes hate speech, unfair discrimination and harassment. The tweet in question came within hours of that judgment. It was a picture of the apartheid flag and was accompanied by text which reads: “Did I just commit hate speech?”.

The following day, Roets retweeted his earlier tweet, but this time accompanied by a comment saying that the reaction from people to his earlier tweet was “as expected”. He added that the judgment said the flag could be displayed for academic purposes. “I am a scholar of Constitutional Law, currently doing my doctorate. This is an academic question. It seems the NMF’s quest for apartheid style censorship & banning continues,” Roets said in the tweet.

Hatang said the tweets were plainly not academic works and did not fall under the Equality Act’s proviso that “bona fide engagement in artistic creativity, academic and scientific inquiry, fair and accurate reporting in the public interest” would not amount to hate speech.

The publication of the tweets was not bona fide or in good faith, Hatang said. “On the contrary, it was unmistakably mala fide,” he said. “By publishing the tweets, the respondents [AfriForum and Roets] openly mocked the order, the judgment (and the judge personally),” said Hatang. They also mocked the foundation, him and “all South Africans who welcomed the judgment,” he said.

By saying that the reaction had been expected, Roets had inadvertently admitted that his intention was to mock and provoke, Hatang said.

“Conducting a cruel experiment on black people, knowingly exploiting their pain and anguish to make some or other political point, can never be regarded as a legitimate academic exercise,” he said.

Roets reacted to the application on Twitter by saying the foundation wanted him imprisoned for tweeting an academic question. “A new era of enforced conformity has arrived. We will fight this.”