By Liz Dlodlo
South Africa’s main opposition political party, the Democratic Alliance (DA) has said it is considering legislative options to specifically and explicitly make online campaigns designed to foment hatred and incite violence, a criminal offence.
DA’s shadow Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies, Phumzile Van Damme said in a statement Wednesday it was high time South African dealt with xenophobia issues decisively.
South Africa hosts millions of African immigrants who have been victims of xenophobic motivated hate and violence at the hands of local mobs who accuse them of taking up economic opportunities.
Zimbabweans, Ethiopians, Somalians, Mozambican, Basotho, Nigerians, Malawians, and others from Pakistan have become a target of an orgy of such violence in most cases.
Some have lost lives, properties or been displaced as a result of attacks.
Van Damme said they had decided to turn on the heat following the revelation Wednesday that Sifiso Jeffrey Gwala, a former soldier was the person behind the “anonymous” Twitter account previously known as @uLerato_pillay, which has been accused of inciting xenophobic tensions in South Africa.
“The Constitutional Court recently gave Parliament 18 months to fix the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act.
My colleague Glynis Breytenbach MP, will propose the inclusion of a section specifically dealing with hate speech laden disinformation campaigns in the digital space that incite violence, while at the same time protecting freedom of speech,” she said.
She added that though, section 16(1) of the South African Constitution prohibited the incitement of violence, it was prudent to act, given the growing proliferation of disinformation and incitement of violence in the digital space and on social media.
Van Damme said such conduct must be made an explicit criminal act in enabling legislation, and dedicated digital investigators are allocated to this objective.
Disinformation, she said was harmful to South Africa’s democracy as it subverts political discourse, not only by inciting violence, but it also created racial tensions.
She commended the Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab) for its ongoing work to expose disinformation, as it has done with the @Lerato_Pillay account.
“Its work to promote objective truth as a the foundation of government for and by people and to protect democratic institutions and norms from those who would seek to undermine them in the digital engagement space is laudable,” added the shadow Minister.
She said the world had moved into a digital era, and that most political engagements was now happening online.
Van Damme said any attempts to manipulate those discussions for nefarious reasons undermined democracy.
The politician called on South Africans to unite against any dastardly efforts to manipulate discussions centred on their country’s future.
“Fighting this requires collaboration between NGOs, parliament, and the Government and indeed, an active citizenry.
The Democratic Alliance will do its part in parliament as the official opposition to make sure that legislation is in place to protect our democracy against harmful misinformation, while at the same time protecting freedom of speech, ” she said.