On 27 February ANC Western Cape leader Marius Fransman gave an interview to the local Voice of the Cape, a local Muslim radio station, in which he alleged that "… the DA had given over building contracts … as well as lots of contracts in Woodstock and Observatory that historically were in the hands of Muslim participants … to people from the Jewish community."
The Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) was incensed. It claimed that Fransman was trying to "solicit Muslim support for his party by suggesting that a rival political party was promoting Jewish economic interests at the expense of Muslims." It unequivocally condemned "attempts to pursue political goals through resorting to such inflammatory practices. Doing so diametrically contradicts the ethos of tolerance and intergroup harmony on which our society is proud to base itself."
It announced that it had decided to ask the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) to intervene in the matter "after several requests to Mr Fransman’s offices for a meeting to discuss and clarify his statements received no response".
The SAJBD’s complaint to the SAHRC was probably based on the possibility that Fransman’s statement constituted hate speech in terms of the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act. According to the Act, "no person may publish, propagate, advocate or communicate words based on one or more of the prohibited grounds (including religion) against any person, that could reasonably be construed to demonstrate a clear intention to a) be hurtful; b) be harmful or to incite harm; c) promote or propagate hatred".
The SAHRC agreed to investigate the complaint and convened a meeting between it, the SAJBD and Fransman for 11 June 2013 in Cape Town. Although Fransman initially agreed to participate in the meeting he subsequently informed the SAHRC by letter that he would not be able to attend "due to urgent engagements in Parliament".
Evidently, someone failed to inform Mary Kluk, the Chairwoman of the SAJBD, who flew down from Durban for the meeting. She and the Board interpreted Fransman’s absence as a snub and claimed that it sent "a clear message to South African Jewry and minority communities that he (Fransman) has little respect for the constitutional processes to protect their rights". The SAHRC disagreed and insisted that Fransman’s absence from the meeting "cannot be viewed as a 'snub' either to the Commission or the process initiated by the SAJBD" which it said was still continuing. "All parties, Mr Fransman included, will be given an opportunity to make submissions to the Commission, and all submissions will be considered".
However, Fransman soon made it clear that he had a different view of his continued participation in the process. In a statement on 12 June 2013 he said that the SAJBD had chosen to "abuse our SAHRC by requesting them to investigate a frivolous complaint that in my view is not a violation of any individual or communities’ human rights, while the SAHRC is inundated with so many more serious complaints of real human rights violations". He added that "Such dogged determination to nose-pick (sic) and turn a blind eye while the travesty of reversing transformation under the DA government continues unabated must in itself be considered as a violation of the rights of the historically disadvantaged".
The dispute between Fransman and the SAJBD is another example of unacceptable racial mobilisation in our political discourse. It is a continuing theme at the national and provincial levels that seeks to cast South African politics in simplistic racial terms - of rich exploitive whites and poor exploited blacks.
South Africa cannot afford politics that are consciously intended to inflame divisions and animosities between our communities and our religions. The SAJBD complaint is not 'frivolous'. It is the task of the SAHRC - and not that of Marius Fransman - to define the boundaries of acceptable political discourse and to determine whether or not his remarks crossed the line into the forbidden territory of hate speech.
Issued by the FW de Klerk Foundation