Hate Speech in the Equality Act Following the Constitutional Court Judgment in Qwelane v SAHRC





conjunctive reading, Equality Act, expression in private, freedom of expression, harm, hate speech, incitement, referral for prosecution, section 10, unfair discrimination


In its judgment in Qwelane v South African Human Rights Commission 2022 2 BCLR 129 (CC), the Constitutional Court declared section 10(1) of the Equality Act unconstitutional and invalid to the narrow extent that section 10(1)(a) refers to the intention to be "hurtful". The prohibition on hate speech passed constitutional muster in all other respects. In addition, the court purposively interpreted aspects of the application of section 10(1) so as to limit its impact on the right to freedom of expression. This contribution firstly welcomes the court's reliance on the transformative goals of the Constitution and the Equality Act as its primary framework in interpreting section 10(1). The severance of section 10(1)(a) and the conjunctive reading of sections 10(1)(b) and (c) ("be harmful or to incite harm" and ʺpromote or propagate hatred" respectively) also seem sensible considering the court's broad definition of "harm". The article further emphasises that the terms of section 10 call for a proper consideration of context. In this regard, the court rightly considered the extreme homophobia in the society addressed by Mr Qwelane, the particular vulnerability of the target group and the real threat of devastating imminent consequences to conclude that Qwelane's words were clearly intended to "incite harm" and "propagate hatred". Yet the court's view that the speaker's subjective intention is irrelevant in performing the requisite objective reasonableness assessment from the ambit of section 10(1) is arguably less judicious, as is the categorical exclusion of expression in private. Ultimately, the objective case-by-case reasonableness inquiry under section 10(1) should be whether a reasonable person in the speaker's position should have refrained from making the impugned harmful discriminatory utterances. This inquiry involves a determination of wrongfulness based on the constitutional duty not to discriminate unfairly. It invokes all the aspects of the Equality Act's definition of discrimination as well as all the elements of fairness analysis set out in section 14 of the Equality Act. Factors to be considered include the value of the particular expression, and the extent of the (potential) harm to individual members of a protected group and to society as a whole, as well as justification considerations such as the respondent's legitimate and bona fide exercise of the right to freedom of expression and to privacy.


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Author Biography

Marelize Marais, University of the Free State

Research fellow, Free State Centre for Human Rights, University of the Free State, South Africa




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How to Cite

Marais, M. (2023). Hate Speech in the Equality Act Following the Constitutional Court Judgment in Qwelane v SAHRC. Potchefstroom Electronic Law Journal, 26, (Published on 12 September 2023) pp 1 – 33. https://doi.org/10.17159/1727-3781/2023/v26i0a15438