Major Victory Against Rape Apologist Hate Speech in South Africa

“When a woman didn’t enjoy it [sex], she leaves early in the morning. Those who had a nice time will wait until the sun comes out, request breakfast, and ask for taxi money.”
-ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema, speaking to a group of 150 University students last May on why South African President Jacob Zuma’s rape accuser must have enjoyed having sex with him.
These are the words of a rape apologist. They are the words of someone seeking to shame, embarrass, humiliate, and de-legitimize a woman who dared to take legal action against her alleged rapist- the president of a nation.
And now, according to a recent ruling by the South African Equality Court, these words also legally constitute hate speech and discrimination, and will not be tolerated without legal ramification.

The verdict handed down yesterday by the South African Equality Court was as much symbolic victory as a legal one, in my opinion. The comment is infuriating, sure, but it is made even more so when considering the context in which it was delivered- to a group of youth, in a country where it is estimated that one in three women is raped in her lifetime and one in four men admits to rape, by a leader in a historically progressive political party whose self-declared “key objective is the creation of a united, non-racial, non-sexist and democratic society.”
The credit for this monumental victory belongs to Sonke Gender Justice Network, an amazing South African organization that supports men and boys to act against domestic and sexual violence. It was them who filed the lawsuit against Malema when they recognized the opportunity to make a public statement about the harm and destruction caused by rape culture.
This move took bravery. It also took strategic vision. The organization where I work, which has partnered with Sonke since 2008, has been anxiously awaiting this verdict since Sonke formalized their complaint in May, but we also recognize that the outcome wasn’t really the point. The very act of them filing the claim was such a powerfully symbolic feminist victory.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that they ended up winning the case, and now, we don’t have to just be content with a symbolic win. Upon being pronounced guilty of hate speech and discrimination, the two charges Sonke leveled against him in the Equality Court following his hateful comments, Malema was ordered to issue a written apology within the next two weeks and instructed to pay R50,000 (approx. $7,000) to an organization serving survivors of gender based violence.
More on the significance of this victory from Sonke’s press statement:

“This case makes it clear that our country’s leaders need to be more responsible in their public statements and that civil society can and will hold them accountable. We hope that this ruling will alert public figures to the potential repercussions of their words, both in terms of the impact that public statements can have in perpetuating gender-based violence and other forms of discrimination, and in terms of the legal implications.
In a country where it is estimated that one in three a women is raped, we need to take strong action to counter myths and stereotypes which can lead perpetrators to believe that they can act with impunity, and which can dissuade rape survivors from seeking health care or justice.”

The press statement goes on to outline next steps for continuing the fight against stigma, discrimination, and gender-based violence in South Africa:

“It is not sufficient, however, for leaders to refrain from making irresponsible comments; we need proactive leadership to mobilise men and boys to take action against gender-based violence. We reiterate our call for men in public positions to be clear and consistent in their explicit support of gender equality and to condemn openly and unequivocally all forms of gender-based violence.
Instead of perpetuating rape myths, public figures should make it clear that rape can happen anywhere, and that the rapist could be anyone: a stranger, a friend, a boyfriend, a husband. There are no rules that say a woman who has been raped will behave like this or like that. We need to make sure that women who have been raped are not stigmatised and are not made to feel like the crimes against them were their fault.”

I’m so psyched to continue to support and partner with Sonke through my work at IWHC as they continue their incredible work generating support for women’s rights and gender equality – and specifically to educate men and boys about the role they can play in advancing gender transformation.
Truly a cause for celebration!
For more on Sonke and combatting violence against women in South Africa:
• Click here to watch an awesome video on Sonke’s taking Malema to court. Seriously, prepare to be inspired.
• Read a recent blog entry on Akimbo by the Sonke Communications and Information Manager, “Men of Quality Do Not Fear Equality: Working with African men Towards Gender Justice and Prevention of HIV
• Read more about the One in Nine Campaign, a movement in South Africa aimed at improving rape survivors’ access to justice

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman is Executive Director of Partnerships at Feministing, where she enjoys creating and curating content on gender, race, class, technology, and the media. Lori is also an advocacy and communications professional specializing in sexual and reproductive rights and health, and currently works in the Global Division of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. A graduate of Harvard University, she lives in Brooklyn.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

Read more about Lori

Join the Conversation

  • TiernaFeminista

    WOW. Awesome news!!!

  • Jeanette

    I love the pic of the guy (kid?) with the sign. I want to get that quote on a t-shirt. :)

  • R. Dave

    I’m sorry, but this is absolutely appalling. The infringement of free speech, and the implications it has for speech on other topics, are so glaringly obvious here that I really am shocked that Feministing would be cheering for this ruling.
    What is the principle that distinguishes between criminalizing Malema’s (obviously disgusting) statement and criminalizing a (similarly disgusting) statement that helps perpetuate beliefs associated with other sources of widespread violence – e.g. Islamic fundamentalism, Communism, etc.? Simply put, there is none.
    Honestly and sincerely, I’m deeply disappointed that Feministing is celebrating such a horrendous court decision.

  • CTD

    The notion of freedom of speech exists precisely because of speech that is deemed terrible and offensive, not in spite of it. Nobody tries to ban speech that isn’t “bad.”
    This is simply awful. No free society has any business bringing criminal charges against citizens based on their ideas.

  • Geneva

    The right to free speech doesn’t apply to any and every single thing that comes out of any person’s mouth. In South Africa, speech that is intentionally hurtful, meant to incite harm, or “promote of propagate hatred” is illegal. As far as I’m concerned, rape apologism falls nicely into all three categories.
    In the United States, free speech is also limited in that you don’t have the freedom to use defamatory speech and you aren’t allowed to incite violence with your speech. It’s a little stricter about what qualifies as illegal speech, but in my opinion rape apologism, especially in the case of something like victim-blaming is pretty damn close to defamatory. It’s a fine line, but this kind of legislation makes sense in South Africa, and is definitely something to be celebrated.

  • Lori

    The Equality Court in South Africa deals exclusively with the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act (PEPUDA)( Hate speech is defined in this Act as words based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion against any person that could reasonably be construed to demonstrate a clear intention to be hurtful; be harmful or to incite harm; or promote or propagate hatred.
    So this is the standard for hate speech that we’re dealing with. As I mention in my post, I think Malema’s rape apologist comments certainly meet that definition of hate speech, and that’s why this verdict is a victory.
    If you’re interested in the merits of this verdict in the context of the South African legal system, there is an interesting discussion about this happening at Global Voices online:
    Thanks for reading!

  • CTD

    I recognize that it is illegal in South Africa. My point is that it shouldn’t be, in SA or anywhere. If all it takes to ban speech is someone deciding that it is “hurtful,” this gives virtually anyone a veto over virtually any speech they don’t like. For instance, a religious group could claim that intense criticism of their homophobic stances are “hurtful” to them, or promotes “hatred” of their ideology. They could then use the law to silence critics. (This has already been attmepted, BTW.)
    In the US, at least, defamation and incitement have very narrow definitions, and are (blessedly) difficult to prosecute. Nothing quoted above would even remotely be considered either by a US court.

  • CTD

    Again, I do not dispute that what he said was illegal in South Africa. I just happen to believe that free speech is a natural right that should be extended to all people, regardless of what arbitrary political unit they happen to be born inside.
    Speech that it deemed hateful, hurtful, bigoted, etc., far from being proscribed, is the kind of speech we should be defending first and hardest. As I said before, it’s always this kind of unpopular or offensive speech that people try to ban. Popular ideas that offend or hurt nobody are in no need of defense.

  • TiernaFeminista

    Free speech blah blah blah free speech. How free is speech that entraps women into stereotypes and hatred. Not buying it. Go cry somewhere else.

  • TG the wanderer

    I agree with CTD here. Freedom of thought and expression is an extremely important human right. Malema’s words were extremely morally reprehensible and should be criticized and worked against, however, his right to say those words should be defended.
    Laws that ban speech because of the quality of its content (rather than for direct incitement of immediate violence) are oppressive and dangerous. Even in addition to curtailing freedom of expression, the extremely subjective nature of these laws too often turn them into political weapons to suppress efforts for other freedoms as well. We should not be celebrating the enforcement of an unjust law simply because it advances our interests or attacks those we deem unethical.
    I am very pleased that the Sonke Gender Justice Network is working to fight the ideas of rape apologists and I am enthusiastic for their cause. I am extremely displeased that they chose to do so in a way that infringes on another human beings’ freedom of expression and that supports the legitimacy of an unjust law. I hope that they will change their tactics for their future efforts.

  • KatieinNewYork

    I get what you & CTD are saying about free speech. And I also realize that in your second paragraph, you are talking about the “direct incitement of immediate violence”. But one could argue that rape apologists incite violence. It’s not direct, no, and it’s not immediate, but excusing rapists excuses rape. Makes the idea and action of raping people acceptable. And that’s pretty frakking violent.
    Where do we draw the line in terms of “inciting violence”?

  • R. Dave

    The line is drawn, in US precedents, based on a very narrow understanding of directness. Basically, as long as you aren’t encouraging a specific and imminent act of violence, your speech is protected.
    The reason for that narrow understanding is that the slope becomes very slippery very quickly. Imagine, for example, a future in which Roe v. Wade gets repealed and a state outlaws abortion. In that situation, absent a very narrow “directness” requirement in incitement cases, advocating for abortion rights could easily be characterized as incitement to violence. And I guarantee you that many in the pro-life movement would make that argument.

  • TG the wanderer

    Yea, my response is roughly what R. Dave said. It is a very difficult and dangerous line to draw, so my answer is: you define it as stringently as possible. You need to have clear encouragement of specific and imminent violence. Anything left up to interpretation is extremely prone to abuse. One could take almost any statement and argue that it promotes violence, and one might be able to get many other people to agree with them, and sometimes they will be right about these arguments, and sometimes they will be wrong. This is why we need to be very wary of allowing speech to be limited based on implications and arguments rather than clear causal incitement.
    I can certainly understand the sentiments behind this legal pursuit. I’m not arguing that this guy shouldn’t have to face consequences for what he said. He SHOULD face consequences. He should face loud public disapproval, and I believe he should lose his job. He is clearly saying things at odds with both important ethics and the stated ideals of the party he is supposed to represent. But that is VERY different from saying that the government should make his expression of ideas illegal.
    Government curtailing of expression should occur in only the most dire of situations. This is an extremely important principle to defend in my opinion. It is very important to defend the rights of women (and all persons) to bodily safety, but we CANNOT disregard basic human rights in our pursuit of other rights.

  • Mike Crichton

    “Men suck!”
    “Creationism is bullshit”
    “Mormonism is a false religion”
    “The Catholic Church is responsible for covering up child abuse”
    “Israel out of Palestine!”
    “The treatment of women in traditional Muslim societies is barbaric”
    “America is not a Christian nation”
    “L. Ron Hubbard was a drunken lunatic”
    “The US Military is engaged in an unjust war”
    “Free Tibet!”
    “Religion is all a bunch of antiquated superstition”
    “Laws against abortion are motivated by contempt for women”
    Every one of those sentiments is considered ‘Hate speech’ by someone. Which, if any, do you think should be prosecutable?

  • a.k.a. Ninapendamaishi

    You’re laboring under false assumptioins. This idea that the way legal systems and trends within society work are always logical, that the way one type of situation is handled will reflect the way a different but similar type of situation is handled.
    South Africa has the most progressive constitution in the world. The people who established that constitution and many activists within South Africa now have no intention of having a ban against hate speech mean anything other than what it means now in common global, liberal political dialogue.
    Similarly, you can have a country in which there is a law that proclaims freedom of speech, and still have a culture or government that is responsible on some level for oppression and censorship. *cough* U.S. *cough*
    Think about the way statements or beliefs construed as “communist” are treated, for example, and the fact that politicians in the U.S. who profess too many beliefs that can be vaguely likened to communism can’t keep a job… Now look at South Africa, where communist beliefs are overall far more accepted.
    How things play out in reality, and who is oppressed and how, is not dictated strictly by law. (Looking at violence against women stats is a great example.) I would argue it’s primarily about the prevalent culture.

  • jason_

    Both sides of the dispute over this verdict are missing a key point, in my view. This comment will be a bit long because I’m really trying to approach it from what I hope is a fresh angle. Leave aside for the moment whether you think the South African statute is fair. Consider instead, why do its advocates believe laws like this will be effective? Recall that the convicted individual, among other things, is being instructed to write a written apology, which on an obvious level sounds sensible and humane. But stop to think about such a punishment; human minds are obviously not computers that can be reprogrammed by forced recitation of ideas, including very good ideas like gender equality and justice, or like human decency.
    I agree that the impulse behind this legislation–that culture affects attitudes and behavior–is not only true, but profoundly so. People are shaped on many levels by the community norms and media environment in which we’re embedded. A constant flood of subtle messages shapes attitudes about so many issues: sexuality and gender roles, friendship, power dynamics, status, body image, how children are regarded, the potential of political action … you could add to this list indefinitely, I’m sure. But it’s also true, becasuse of the very ubiquity of this messaging, that eliminating the largely pervasive sexism that excuses sexual assault involves reaching far more deeply into the minds of perpetrators and their social worlds than the crude arm of the criminal law can manage. Prosecuting destructive but not imminently inciting speech may, in many cases, tend to drive sexist behavior underground (think: the old boys’ club, in its thousand varieties), making such behavior harder to locate and act against.
    It seems to me that by contrast with the legal approach, work in education curricula and entertainment media are far more promising venues (but not the only ones I could imagine) for promoting truly substantial, ground-level cultural change toward norms of interpersonal respect. Even here, however, a sensitive approach is important. Moral instruction in these settings should certainly be uncompromising about the complete unacceptability of rape. But if it adopts an adversarial rather than collegial tone, it simply won’t be heard or taken seriously by many of those who need most to absorb its message. A resentful or indifferent young male listener, for instance, may already be inclined to rebel against the authority that he experiences as telling him what to do in a thousand other ways. So tone does matter. Yet educational and media instruction should also do something else: model gender equality, that is, give people of all genders a positive, inspiring vision of possibility to live up to, and not just behavior to avoid. Even here, subtlety can help the work take hold. So relationships depicted in these settings should not seem perfect and remote from real-world experiences, in which, for instance, good relationships involve learning to acknowledge and process conflict constructively. It promotes gender equality, in my opinion, to show that discrete examples of disrespectful behavior in a generally caring relationship can be acknowledged and criticized without treating, say, the man who did them as terrible. Now to be sure, another requirement of gender equality is that people should not be pressured to stay in relationships, married or otherwise, that they decide are not in their best interests. But at the same time, if the relationship shown is a generally caring one, a man who has done something arguably sexist, or otherwise unfair, on a smaller scale shouldn’t be depicted so negatively that a male viewer instinctively thinks, “I couldn’t ever make mistakes like these,” and thereby never learns to take in criticism with an open mind (or, on the flip side, and just as important, never is encouraged to express his own anger and complaints respectfully). We should model dialogue and show how it can make everyone better off than they were under patterns of inequality and disrespect. This lesson isn’t always absorbed easily, which makes the work of teaching it in an inclusive, thoughtful way all the more important.
    Changing sexist and other oppressive cultural conditions, insofar as they are perpetuated through communication patterns, is in my view not best thought of as a matter of engineering that can be controlled precisely by the pronouncements of lawmakers, judges, and other authorities, proceeding as if they were dealing with machines rather than people. Instead, promoting positive change effectively might best be thought of as an art (and, one could say, a social science) that benefits enormously from attention to the messy terrain of emotions, attitudes, and relationships, where real life is lived.

  • JemimaAslana

    His rights to say those words have not been revoked. He still has the right to say whatever appalling shit he wants. He also has the right to pay reparations to those whose lives he may impact by doing so.
    We have similar laws in Denmark. They’re commonly called the ‘slander-laws’. These laws are the reason we can make racism and sexism illegal. Not in thought obviously, but in action. Anyone who slanders another and/or encourages violence or other criminal actions against a person or a group of people can be prosecuted.
    Yes, we have freedom of speech, but freedom comes with responsibility. We’re once again discussing whether anyone has the right to yell FIRE in a full cinema.
    Our racist political party actually sued someone for calling them racist. They thought it was slander. The judge ruled against them, and deemed that it was totally not slander to call them racist, it was, in fact, a statement of fact.
    Let’s also remember that basic human rights are not universal or god-given or anything, if they were we should all be able to agree what everyone’s rights are – they are decided upon by humans. It is not a basic human right to have freedom of speech. Humans have decided that it is in the best interest of our freedom that we also have freedom of speech. And some have additionally decided that it is illegal to use that freedom to limit the freedom and lives of others.
    Sort of like Americans have the right to keep and bear arms, but random people in the street also have the right to not be shot by those who keep and bear those arms.
    We have the right to say hat we think/feel/believe, but other people have the right to not be harmed by our words.
    Let’s no fool ourselves into thinking that this is about a few sensitive souls being hurt on their fee-fees. This is about an entire group of people being harmed on their safety and their perceived humanity. If this is not worth taking seriously, then some of you really need to consider why you have the right to not be shot by those who have the right to keep and bear arms.

  • tweedledee

    You are imposing the American usage of freedom of speech in this context. Yes, the South African Constitutions guarantees freedom of speech, but they have specifically set up this court to guard against hate speech, which in the context of post-apartheid South Africa, could also be read as an incitement to violence (which is where US freedoms of speech are limited).

  • davenj

    “Free speech blah blah blah free speech.”
    While I disagree with your denigration of a fundamental human right, I support your right to express it.
    Speech can be bad and still be free. The point is that free speech has to be universal. Otherwise someone could say you shouldn’t be allowed to say what you just said.

  • AuntieMay

    “Free speech blah blah blah free speech. How free is speech that entraps women into stereotypes and hatred. Not buying it. Go cry somewhere else.”
    I tend to agree with this sentiment. Words are extremely powerful and can be used in terribly destructive ways against women. In fact, part NOW’s 2009 agenda was to establish a national dialog on “soft hate speech”, those code words and phrases used by oppressors against victims like women.
    It’s appalling how much insulting and hateful “free speech” is allowed to go on. Your rights to free speech end when a victim or victimized group is offended.

  • mysticapple

    As a South African, I would just like to say…
    People can debate the finer details of Freedom of Speech, but as someone who is constantly subjected to this man’s sexist, racist and goodness-knows-what-else-ist comments that are routinely quoted in the media I can only be happy.
    As a public figure he has the responsibility to take care with what he says *in public*, especially when his own views go contrary to values that his party claims to uphold.
    The same sort of issue was recently raised when Jacob Zuma was found to have fathered (yet another) child, while he claims to uphold traditional values of having children in a committed relationship, not to mention safe sex and HIV/AIDs prevention.
    Public figures have the same freedoms but must realise they are going to be held to a higher standard, and be held accountable for what they do and say.

  • davenj

    “Your rights to free speech end when a victim or victimized group is offended.”
    I thoroughly disagree. First, victim/victimized group is far too broad a term. Any group can cast themselves as a victim and claim offense, then say that free speech ought to be curtailed. Second, offense isn’t harm, and certainly not immediate harm.
    Your principle is that offensive speech connotes direct harm. What that means is that potentially any offensive speech could be limited.

  • daveNYC

    It’s as free as the speech you use to fight against it.

  • Max

    Let’s no fool ourselves into thinking that this is about a few sensitive souls being hurt on their fee-fees.
    I sincerly doubt anyone on this site underestimates the impact of rape-apology language and the danger it causes. It’s possible to recognize that and still disagree with this legislation.

  • everybodyever

    But that question of where to draw the line is precisely the problem when you draw it this side of kinds of speech that, as you say, “one could argue… incite violence.” Your question is that which other commenters and I believe will necessarily arise under hate speech legislation like that in SA. And it will inevitably be answered by those in power.
    You seem to conflate the idea of inciting violence with that of excusing it. Pacifists, war protestors, death penalty opponents, et al. are frequently accused of excusing violence, but that doesn’t make their speech itself violent; to me, the notion that they thereby incite violence is a dangerous one. Plus, doesn’t anybody following a high-profile murder case excuse violence as a matter of course? And which statement, if either, is an incitement to violence: “The al Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Center were right and necessary to end U.S. involvement in the Arab world,” or that old history-buff trope, “the atom bombs the U.S. dropped on Japan were right and necessary to end the war?”

  • Mike Crichton

    His rights to say those words have not been revoked. He still has the right to say whatever appalling shit he wants. He also has the right to pay reparations to those whose lives he may impact by doing so.
    That makes about as much sense as saying “I have a _right_ steal a car, I’ll just go to jail if I do”.

  • Mike Crichton

    Public figures have the same freedoms but must realise they are going to be held to a higher standard, and be held accountable for what they do and say.
    The way to do that is vote them out of office if they’re politicians, boycott their source of livelihood if they’re not, and speak against them in all cases. NOT to use the law to silence them.

  • Mike Crichton

    Posts like this give rhetorical ammunition to those on the right who can point to is and say “See? Those so-called “Feminists” really do want to use the law to silence us!” In so doing, you hurt the cause and make it more likely that women will be subject to abuse. So you should be silenced, right?

  • Suzann

    I am offended by all of them.
    You must pay me money now!
    (sarc off now)
    I totally agree that the hardest thing to do is to stand by what you know is right even when it hurts.
    We all want freedom for what WE want. Respecting the freedom of others is the real dividing line.

  • Mike Crichton

    Now that I think about it, a better example would be saying “Christians in Saudi Arabia have the same right to practice their religion as Muslims do, they’ll just be arrested for it. This in no way detracts from their freedom, though!”

  • nurgetts

    Sorry but I get so tired of hearing this “free speech” excuse from everyone, now! Especially because as a rape survivor, I have to listen to the MOST offensive rape jokes and apologism as much as anyone else and just suck it up!
    NO…NO MORE!! If you really are adults…you act with dignity and grace towards other people…and this certainly includes what you say. Otherwise, just be quite please!
    We have laws against hate speech here in the UK, now that deal with racism and honmophobia (to a certain extent). About time too…now WHERE are the one’s that deal with sexism, please?!
    Free speech…my ass. An ADULT takes reponsibility for their speech, thinks about what they will say and causes no pain.
    Isn’t it sad then, that we even need these laws?? Just because a few lazy, bigoted people can’t be bothered to look at their own patehetic behaviour.

  • davenj

    “An ADULT takes reponsibility for their speech, thinks about what they will say and causes no pain.”
    Your lack of respect for a fundamental human right pains me. But I still support your right to say what you said.
    Lots of adult speech can cause pain. Some people are really irked by foul language. Ought we call any foul speech hate speech?
    What about apostasy laws? Those seem to be an extension of your logic. Banning speech of something that many societies consider incredibly painful and detrimental (the derision of religion).
    Free speech isn’t an excuse. It’s a right. So long as speech does not incite to immediate harm it may be problematic, but ought not be forbidden.
    It’s sad that you think you need these laws. Because all that demonstrates is the idea that free speech is fine, but it’s only free insofar as you will allow it.
    It’s also sad that you think restricting free speech will make people any less racist, homophobic, or sexist.
    The response to poorly used free speech is well used free speech, not censorship.
    It’s such a shame to see those with some of the most amazing rights ever achieved in human history willfully throw them away out of fear. So many have given so much so that you can exercise your self-expression in ways our ancestors could not even fathom, and then we toss these rights out of sheer expedience.
    It really does pain me. But still, it’s your right.
    As it should be.

  • Mike Crichton

    I guarantee you that someone out there finds some aspect of what you just posted to be so offensive that they think you should be prohibited from saying it. Why do you deserve to have free speech, and those who offend you don’t?

  • nurgetts

    Davenj and mike crichton.
    NO ONE as full rights to free speech…nor should they have. All counrties have laws that govern speech and behaviour in one form or another.
    You are spot on in that I think I am right because all I am saying is…SHOULD AN ADULT ACT LIKE AN ADULT!! Er, yes!!
    No one can argue with that! Surely, all adults can act with responsibility to each other?? Have a few basic manners.
    Otherwise, you have no right to call yourself fully grown. and you have no rights to “free speech”.
    So….act like adults. THINK about what you say before you say it. HAVE some respect for others. DON’T disrespect others deliberately.
    Not difficult is it?! And if it is….you are not yet a mature adult. It is TRAGIC that we need these laws put down…because all it does is show that most people are indeed, immature, lazy and unresponsible.