A Duty Perspective on the Hate Speech Prohibition in the Equality Act

Keywords: Equality Act, Hate speech, section 10, unfair discrimination, freedom of expression, duty, respect, dignity, reasonableness, hurt and harm, incitement, bona fide, conjunctive, Qwelane


In November 2019 the Supreme Court of Appeal in Qwelane v South African Human Rights Commission ruled that section 10(1) of the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act (Equality Act) 4 of 2000, otherwise known as the "hate speech" prohibition, was unconstitutional. The court said it was vague, overbroad and therefore unjustifiably infringing the right to freedom of expression. This contribution argues that every person's duty to respect others is central to the hate speech prohibition, and should therefore also be a central consideration in its interpretation. Related duties are those of the state to enact legislation and of courts to interpret and apply the law to promote the spirit, purport and objects of the Bill of Rights. References to relevant case law in various legal contexts provide the framework within which legal duties are examined in the context of unfair discrimination and, in particular, hate speech in terms of section 10(1) of the Equality Act. The constitutional obligations of the state, the courts and private persons to promote respect for the dignity of others are examined.  The state's specific obligation in terms of section 9(4) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 to enact legislation to prevent or prohibit unfair discrimination on the grounds listed in section 9(3) is reiterated. Finally, these duties are related to the section 10(1) prohibition in the Equality Act. Refuting the Supreme Court of Appeal's ruling in Qwelane, the reasonableness standard is applied to conclude that the prohibition gives due effect to the duties of the state and every person, and that the courts are duty-bound to interpret it accordingly.



Albertyn C and Fredman S "Equality beyond Dignity: Multi-Dimensional Equality and Justice Langa's Judgments: Part III: Reflections on Themes in Justice Langa's Judgments" 2015 Acta Juridica 430-455

Bhana D and Broeders N "Agreements to Agree: Everfresh Market Virginia (Pty) Ltd v Shoprite Checkers (Pty) Ltd 2012 1 SA 256 (CC)" 2014 THRHR 164-176

Cooper C "Harassment on the Basis of Sex and Gender: A Form of Unfair Discrimination" 2002 ILJ 1-44

Davis DM and Klare K "Transformative Constitutionalism and the Common and Customary Law" 2010 SAJHR 403-509

Fitzgerald LF "Still the Last Great Open Secret: Sexual Harassment as Systemic Trauma" 2017 Journal of Trauma and Dissociation 483-489

Fredman S Human Rights Transformed: Positive Rights and Positive Duties (Oxford University Press New York 2008)

Gelber K "Hate Speech: Definitions and Empirical Evidence" 2017 Constitutional Commentary 619-662

Hutchinson A "Good Faith in Contract: A Uniquely South African Perspective" 2019 Journal of Commonwealth Law 227-271

Klare KE "Legal Culture and Transformative Constitutionalism" 1998 SAJHR 146-188

Kok A et al "The Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act 4 of 2000: Proposals for Legislative Reform to Promote Equality through Schools and the Education System" 2020 Erasmus L Rev 49-64

Marais ME "Hate Speech in Context: Commentary on the Judgments of the Equality Court and the Supreme Court of Appeal in the Masuku Dispute" 2019 JJS 101-118

Marais ME and Pretorius JL "A Contextual Analysis of the Hate Speech Provisions of the Equality Act" 2015 PELJ 901-941

Marais ME and Pretorius JL "The Constitutionality of the Prohibition of Hate Speech in terms of Section 10(1) of the Equality Act: A Reply to Botha and Govindjee" 2019 PELJ 1-37

Pretorius JL "Fairness in Transformation: A Critique of the Constitutional Court's Affirmative Action Jurisprudence" 2010 SAJHR 536-570

Pretorius JL, Klinck ME and Ngwena CA "Reasonable Accommodation" in Pretorius JL, Klinck ME and Ngwena CA (eds) Employment Equity Law (LexisNexis Butterworths Durban 2012) ch 7

Quinot G and Liebenberg S "Narrowing the Band: Reasonableness Review in Administrative Justice and Socio-Economic Rights Jurisprudence in South Africa" 2011 Stell LR 639-663

Case law
AB v Pridwin Preparatory School 2020 5 SA 327 (CC)
Afriforum v Malema 2011 6 SA 240 (EqC)
Barkhuizen v Napier 2007 7 BCLR 691 (CC)
Beadica 231 CC v Trustees for the time being of the Oregon Trust 2020 9 BCLR 1098 (CC)
Carmichele v Minister of Safety and Security 2001 10 BCLR 995 (CC)
Case v Minister of Safety and Security; Curtis v Minister of Safety and Security 1996 5 BCLR 609 (CC)
City of Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality v Blue Moonlight Properties 39 (Pty) Ltd 2012 2 SA 104 (CC)
De Reuck v Director of Public Prosecutions (Witwatersrand Local Division) 2003 12 BCLR 1333 (CC)
Dikoko v Mokhatla 2007 1 BCLR 1 (CC)
Everfresh Market Virginia (Pty) Ltd v Shoprite Checkers (Pty) Ltd 2012 3 BCLR 219 (CC)
Governing Body of the Juma Musjid Primary School v Essay 2011 8 BCLR 761 (CC)
Government of the Republic of South Africa v Grootboom 2000 11 BCLR 1169 (CC)
Harksen v Lane 1997 11 BCLR 1489 (CC)
Hoffmann v South African Airways 2000 12 BLLR 1365 (CC)
Human Rights Commission v Qwelane; Qwelane v Minister for Justice and Correctional Services 2018 2 SA 149 (GJ)
Komape v Minister of Basic Education 2020 2 SA 347 (SCA)
Khumalo v Holomisa 2002 8 BCLR 771 (CC)
Le Roux v Dey 2011 6 BCLR 577 (CC)
Liberty Group Limited v M 2017 10 BLLR 991 (LAC)
Loureiro v iMvula Quality Protection (Pty) Ltd 2014 3 SA 394 (CC)
MEC for Education: KwaZulu-Natal v Pillay 2008 2 BCLR 99 (CC)
Minister of Finance v Van Heerden 2004 12 BLLR 1181 (CC)
National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality v Minister of Justice 1998 12 BCLR 1517 (CC)
Qwelane v South African Human Rights Commission 2020 3 BCLR 334 (SCA)
S v Makwanyane 1995 3 SA 391 (CC)
Saskatchewan (Human Rights Commission) v Whatcott 2013 1 SCR 467
South African Human Rights Commission v Khumalo 2019 1 SA 289 (GJ)
South African National Defence Union v Minister of Defence 1996 5 BCLR 609 (CC)
Standard Bank of South Africa v The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration 2008 4 BLLR 356 (LC)
The Citizen 1978 (Pty) Ltd v McBride 2011 8 BCLR 816 (CC)
Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996
Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act 4 of 2000
South African Schools Act 84 of 1996

Internet sources

Bilchitz D and Du Toit L 2016 Assessing the Performance of South Africa's Constitution - Chapter 3: Fundamental Rights in South Africa's Constitution https://constitutionnet.org/sites/default/files/chapter_3._fundamental_rights.pdf accessed 16 November 2020

Cambridge Dictionary 2020 Disjunctive https://dictionary.cambridge.org/
dictionary/english/disjunctive accessed 16 November 2020

Merriam Webster 2020 Disjunctive https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/disjunctive 16 November 2020

Merriam Webster 2020 Exclusive Disjunction https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/exclusive%20disjunction 16 November 2020

Merriam Webster 2020 Inclusive Disjunction https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/inclusive%20disjunction 16 November 2020

South African Human Rights Commission 2019 Findings of the South African Human Rights Commission Regarding Certain Statements Made by Mr Julius Malema and Another Member of the Economic Freedom Fighters https://www.sahrc.org.za/home/21/files/SAHRC%20Finding%20Julius%20Malema%20&%20Other%20March%202019.pdf accessed 16 November 2020

Young KG 2017 Proportionality, Reasonableness, and Economic and Social Rights https://lawdigitalcommons.bc.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article
=2063&context=lsfp accessed 12 May 2021
  • Abstract 136
  • Pdf 114
  • Xml 67
  • epub 18
Views and downloads are with effect from 11 January 2018