Monitoring and Analysis of Hateful Language in South Africa: A Third Deep Dive

Note Written by Lindokuhle Nzuza

Weeks of intense political campaigns culminated in a largely successfully election on May 8th in South Africa. However, despite the uneventful nature of the elections, our monitoring in this period saw a rise in the use of hateful terms.

Land Thieves: A Comeback

In particular, this period saw the return of a term that had previously surged in early April: land thieves.

This year, the election was heavily focused on two of the most contested issues in the country: workers’ rights and land. The Black First Land First (BLF) party, a land rights advocacy party for black South Africans, in particular called for the amendment of section 25 of the South African constitution -- an amendment that was first introduced by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party -- to allow for land expropriation without compensation. This would facilitate land ownership for black South Africans, a shift away from what BLF terms as white monopoly capital, a hateful term used to suggest that white people use their (perceived) capital wealth in monopolist ways to enrich themselves by manipulating the economy. On April 29th the BLF party leader lamented that the amendment had not taken place because the African National Congress (ANC) and EFF parties had sold out to land thieves and no longer represented landless black South Africans. This caused a spike in the volume of the term land thieves on social media as supporters of the BLF took to platforms to show their support, posting sentiments like:

Land thieves will be defeated again today we are blf and we dont play games with thieves.”

Land Thieves edt Volume trend from 2019-04-26 to 2019-05-09 copy.png

In efforts to advance their land rights agenda, the BLF party coined the slogan Land or Death – a statement that eventually dragged the party to the Equality Court by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC). On May 6th the court found that the slogan constituted hate speech and gave the party one month to remove it from their social media platforms and website. After the judgement was handed down, Deputy President of the party, Zanele Lwana, said BLF would not apologize and claimed that this ruling infringed on their freedom of expression. This move only further sparked debate on social media – some believed that the court handed a fair judgement while others argued that SAHRC was doing the work of land thieves.

Kill the Boer: Hate speech or Not?

During this period, the phrase Kill the Boer was used to challenge the events happening in the legal institutions. The first instance was on April 29th when the Mandela Foundation moved to the court in a bid to have the old Apartheid flag banned and declared hate speech in South Africa. In response, social media users began to question why the flag should be considered hate speech while Kill the Boer isn’t, leading to a spike in the use of the term.

Kill the Boer edt Volume trend from 2019-04-26 to 2019-05-09.png

The second significant use of the term happened during the ruling on May 6th regarding the BLF slogan, Land or Death. Social media users were stunned to learn that the court considered the slogan hate speech. This came as a surprise because the SAHRC just recently cleared the leader of the EFF party of any wrongdoing, stating that his own use of Kill the Boer did not constitute hate speech.

The discussion on this matter saw social media users defending Kill the Boer, arguing that it was part of popular songs during their struggle, is now part of the culture, and does not intend harm. Others viewed it as hateful and dangerous because it has an actual call to action against a particular group.

SAHRC’s two conflicting votes on this phrase indicate that the term will likely resurface, especially when discourse or legal proceedings on declaring other terms and phrases as hate speech take place.

Although the election has come to an end, instances like this continue to pop-up, which is why we’re working to continue to provide insights to build a greater understanding around the context of hateful and offensive language in South Africa.