- Racist and hateful statements made on social media after TV news show about Chinese demand for donkey skins
- The Chinese Association demands unconditional apologies and other penalties against those accused
Four of 12 people in South Africa accused of hate speech against local Chinese people have admitted guilt and agreed to hundreds of hours of community service as punishment " even before the case has ended.
The matter stems from anti-Chinese comments made on social media in January 2017 after a video went viral showing the slaughter of donkeys for their skins, allegedly to be illegally exported for the Chinese medicinal market.
Among the most offending comments were that Chinese were "vile, barbaric people" who were "scum of the Earth".
The Chinese Association (TCA) took the matter to South Africa's Equality Court, which was set up to protect people's rights in the post-apartheid era.
The TCA was outraged at apparent calls for the "genocide" of Chinese people. One social media post suggested: "I think we should start killing their (Chinese) children for a (hangover cure)".
The court, which heard the case in Johannesburg, ordered the four individuals last week to post an unconditional apology to Chinese South Africans on their social media accounts, to be pinned there for six months.
For their community service of 500 hours, the four have agreed to remove anti-Chinese hate speech on social media platforms.
The Chinese who call South Africa home, despite the violence and xenophobia
The case played out against a backdrop of recent and repeated bouts of xenophobia in South Africa where foreigners are often falsely accused of "stealing" local South Africans' jobs.
Dozens of people have been killed or injured and many foreigners' businesses and homes burned and looted in recent outbreaks " though most of the violence is aimed against black Africans from outside South Africa.
The 12 respondents were accused under South Africa's hate speech laws, which prohibit collective attacks on groups of people and calls for violence against them.
Most of the remaining respondents are contesting the complaints against them, with one failing to appear at all.
The four admissions of guilt came as the TCA wrapped up its case and before any formal defence had been presented.
At issue is whether the offending comments could be defended as free speech as enshrined in South Africa's human rights-oriented constitution.
Among the four to admit guilt was Dawn Reeve, whose comment was: "The Chinese are destroying the earth … we have to retaliate. I don't know how anyone can support a f#$@ Chinaman they are the rot of the earth".
Reeve admitted that this comment constituted unfair discrimination, hate speech and harassment against the Chinese community.
Another defendant Lana Berger wrote on Facebook: "I wish they would start wiping themselves out". She had argued that the word "they" in her post referred to donkey killers and others like them, but conceded it could be read as an attack on Chinese people.
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The TCA, which represents the interests of more than 100,000 Chinese South Africans, was confident the court would rule in its favour on all counts.
"We believe the court will see that our case against these heinous comments is indisputable," said TCA chairperson Erwin Pon.
"In a diverse democracy such as ours, underpinned by principles of equality and dignity, it cannot be acceptable to say about a particular group of people, 'wipe them out' or 'get rid' of them."
TCA vice-chairman Francis Lai Hong added: "TCA is pleased that we were able to present evidence on the history of racism that has faced our community and on how, too, hate speech and racism impact us currently.
"Through this case, the Chinese experience in South Africa has finally been made visible."
The case continues in South Gauteng High Court's Equality Court in February next year.
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