Fr. Limukani Ndlovu, Archdiocese of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe
In their recently published pastoral statement entitled, “Reclaiming the Sanctity of Life: Zimbabwe Council of Churches Pastoral Statement on the Murder of Moreblessing Ali 13 June 2022” the church leaders express that “the church is deeply concerned about the level of hate and the hate speech that has developed in our nation that forms a reservoir out of which these terrible killings emerge”.
The Pastors call for the restoration of respect for sanctity of human life and inherent dignity of persons. The question is, what is “hate speech”? Hate is an intense negative interior disposition towards someone. Thus, hate speech denotes any form of expression directed towards someone or about them motivated by one’s negative energy of hatred, intolerance and discrimination. There is a very thin line between hate speech and rights to freedom of expression. Hence the need for serious discernment. Consequences of one’s words may be realized in the interpretation and actions of those who hear them. Hate speech brings about a sense of insecurity, discomfort and fear on the victim while it brings about impunity, vindictiveness and propensity to harm and even to eliminate others.
While the person who has reached the age of reason is responsible for his/her actions, decisions and omissions, history has however taught that adults may be incited to act in hateful ways propelled formally or informally through hate speeches by their leaders.
The Republic of South Africa gazetted a bill called “Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill” (No. 41543 of 29 March 2018). In the preamble, the bill brings to attention the severity of the emotional and psychological impact of hate crimes and hate speech which extend beyond the victim, to the group to which the victim belongs or is perceived to belong. In Section 3. (1) “a hate crime is an offence recognised under any law, the commission of which by a person is motivated by that person’s prejudice or intolerance towards the victim of the crime in question because of one or more of the following characteristics or perceived characteristics of the victim or his or her family member or the victim’s association with, or support for, a group of persons…” In Section 4. (1) (a), any person who intentionally publishes, propagates or advocates anything or communicates to one or more persons in a manner that could reasonably be construed to demonstrate a clear intention to be harmful or to incite harm; promote or propagate hatred can be charged for the offence for hate speech.
The Practical Guide of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights acknowledges that through hate speech serious violations of human rights are suffered by the African civilian population. Hate speech militates against the mandate to promote and protect human rights and life. It does not enhance social, political, cultural and people’s rights. The Constitution of Zimbabwe (Amendment 20 of 2013) guarantees various fundamental rights in Section 61(5) and the Criminal Code 37 (1) © criminalizes hate speech and Section 42 (2) makes it a crime for a person to make publicly, any insulting or otherwise grossly provocative statement that causes offence to persons.
Jesus admonishes the use of hate speech, “whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire” (Mt 5:22). Therefore, beginning from each family which is the fundamental cell of society, a sacred sanctuary of life and the heart of the culture of life there should be prevention of hate speech. The tongue has no bones but it is strong enough to break people’s hearts and can lead to loss of lives.