A law that criminalises racism may be what the country needs to clamp down the scourge of racism, but South Africans need to continue the dialogue. This is according to the director at the Cape Town based Goedgedacht Forum, Felicity Harrison.
The forum is one of the post-apartheid initiatives aimed at fostering reconciliation among South Africans.
Harrison was reacting to growing calls for a legislation to criminalise racism following the recent racist comments made on social media platforms.
According to the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination of 2000, if the Equality Court has found a person guilty of hate speech, the court may order the Director of Public Prosecutions to institute criminal proceedings in terms of common law or relevant legislation.
The law also proposes among others, that an unconditional apology should be made, payment for damages or an order of deterrent nature, to suspend or revoke the licence of a person running a business who has been found guilty of racist remarks.
But, various political parties - including the African National Congress (ANC) - are calling for existing law relating to hate speech to be amended to give it more teeth or a new law to be introduce which will not only criminalise racism but prescribe for a custodial sentence for anyone found guilty of it.
This follows recent racist utterances on social media platforms. One of those who have been accused of racism after calling black people monkeys is Penny Sparrow.
Harrison, says more laws would work, but South Africans also need to talk more. "In terms of combating racism, having laws on hate speech and racism are important, but they are not sufficient. They can only take us so far. We need to have citizens dialoguing with each other, listening to each other, sharing our experiences, which I don’t think has happened up to so far."
The ANC and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) are united in their calls for racism to be made a Criminal Act.
The ANC's Moloto Motapo says: "The current legislative prohibitions are not sufficient to dissuade or to properly punish people who engage in acts of racism and promotion of Apartheid. Remember, Apartheid is an evil system that was declared by the United Nations as crime against humanity. It cannot be that someone can advocate racism and Apartheid and they are just left off the hook."
The EFF's Mbuyiseni Ndlozi says: "It has updates on Twitter of white people who are now hanging their white supremacist, anti- black attitudes on social media. It signifies that we still live in a country that is anti-black."
Harrison says various factors prevent citizens from talking to one another. "People don't talk, because they are very defensive, they don't listen to each other because of the hurt of the past, and consequently they don't trust each other. People don't acknowledge their past."