On Wednesday 11 February, the Hate Crimes Working Group (HCWG) will launch an advocacy brief highlighting the need for a comprehensive policy approach. Various stakeholders will come together at its Annual General Meeting, held at the Scalabrini Centre in Cape Town, to present the latest research reports and chart the way forward.
Hate crimes are not simply crimes targeted at vulnerable groups, but ones committed against individuals because of a prejudice the perpetrator holds against an entire group of people – which is then channelled in violent acts towards an available victim. The prejudice may be due to one or more traits for example, a person’s religious beliefs, nationality or sexual orientation.
In February 2006 in Khayelitsha, Western Cape, 19-year-old Zoliswa Nkonyana – open in her community about her homosexuality – was stabbed and stoned to death by a group of young men, following taunts for ‘acting like a tomboy’. In May 2013, in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape, 25-year-old Somali national Abdi Nasir Mahmood Good was stoned to death by a mob including school children, as he protected his shop from looters. In 2008 the country was gripped by waves of xenophobic violence and recent xenophobic attacks in Soweto and surrounds – targeting foreign owned shops and shopkeepers – again emphasised the urgent need for a comprehensive government response to hate crimes.
There are two factors that define hate crimes. The first is that the act is considered a crime under existing South African criminal law – such as intimidation, arson, damage to property, assault, rape or murder. The second is that the act is motivated in whole or in part by prejudice or hatred regarding an aspect of the victim’s identity – such as race, nationality, religion or sexual orientation.
Tackling issues from all sides
At present there is no official monitoring of these types of crimes, with the consequence that it is left out of government statistics. The HCWG maintains specific legislation would enable government and civil society access to more reliable data regarding the frequency and severity of this type of violence. A policy that distinguishes these acts from other types of crime would achieve three main purposes. First, it would enable improved monitoring of violence motivated by prejudice, helping authorities to track trends of hate crimes across the country and thus be able to identify areas for intervention. Greater monitoring could also help in providing warnings of possible mob violence motivated by prejudice, such as xenophobic violence.
Second, it would help recognise the social impact of hate crimes. Currently an assault motivated by a person’s race or sexual orientation, or the burning and looting of foreign nationals’ shops may be treated as an assault or public violence respectively – and thus not responded to accordingly by the criminal justice system. Addressing hate crimes consistently through the courts, public statements and other means would help send a clear message that hate crimes will not be tolerated and offenders cannot commit such crimes with impunity.
Third, legislation would introduce multi-sector collaboration in addressing hate crimes – something lacking in both government and civil society responses. Hate crimes require a variety of service providers including police officers, hospital and clinic staff as well as court officials to develop strategies to prevent or respond to hate crimes. This may include requiring police to investigate evidence of a prejudice motive; hospitals and clinics to take steps to prevent secondary victimisation when assisting hate crime victims; and prosecutors and courts to apply the available tools.
In the South African constitution, the understanding of equality is a substantive one. This means it is interested not only in equal opportunities for all, but that every person actually experiences equality with others. To this end, the equality clause directs itself in such a way to offer relief. Substantive equality means that not all are simply treated equally, but can be treated differently if the end result is that all will then experience equality. For lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons, religious minorities, disabled persons refugees, and non-nationals living in South Africa and those attacked because of race, this equality can be realised by the extra protection given by virtue of their status as targets.
The event will be chaired by Dr Ingrid Lynch. The key speaker (to be confirmed) is the Honourable Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, Mr John Jeffery. The HCWG’s advocacy brief will be launched alongside various research reports and updates. It is scheduled to run from 10h00 till 13h30. It is open to members of the HCWG, other service providers who share a common concern on the impact of hate crimes in South Africa, as well as the media.
The HCWG, a multi-sectoral network of civil society organisations, was established to spearhead advocacy and reform initiatives pertaining to hate crimes in South Africa and the region. Members of the network span a range of sectors, namely LGBTI rights; migrants, refugees and asylum seekers rights; and gender based entities and broader human rights organisations. All share a common concern on the impact of hate crimes in South Africa from the perspective of the victims or from a legal, service provision, research-based or advocacy perspective. For more information, please visit http://hcwg.org.za.