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SAHRC media statement regarding the successful outcome of its meeting with former CPUT students who were involved in posting racist comments on Facebook
Date: Monday, 30 July 2012

On 23 July 2012 the Deputy Chair of the South African Human Rights Commission, Commissioner Pregs Govender together with the Western Cape Provincial Office facilitated a process to resolve the matter involving former Cape Peninsula University of Technology students who were involved in posting racist comments on the social networking site, Facebook. Two of the three former students attended the meeting with the Commission.

On 3 May 2012, these two students commented on a Facebook post by a Mr Ken Sinclair that amounted to prima facie utterances of hate speech with the potential of inciting violence.  The Commission’s preliminary findings against the two students were that their utterances were hurtful and infringed on the dignity of black South Africans.  The Commission has welcomed the response by the two students who both apologised and agreed to meet with the Commission.

“I would like to apologise if have offended you or anyone....I willingly admit that I have made a huge mistake by commenting on such a controversial post and not stating my point clearly....Again, I am sorry if I have offended anyone, it was not my intention”.

“I deeply apologise to anyone whom I may have offended for the foolish, random and violent comment I posted on Mr Sinclair’s Facebook page... I also did not fully realise the context of this post at the time, nor did I consider those who may have taken offence to it”.

The seriousness of the situation and the harm and pain that these comments caused was conveyed by Commissioner Govender. The students expressed heartfelt regret about their actions and it was clear from their interactions that both acted impulsively. The students have agreed to make amends by taking part in community services. They will also participate in Commission outreach programmes to educate other young people.

Unfortunately the first respondent, Ken Sinclair who made the first and most serious comment which has been widely reported in print and online media has not yet responded to requests from the Commission.  The Commission will pursue its investigations in this regard. We encourage Mr Ken Sinclair to come forward so we can deal with this matter.

Beyond this intervention with the two individuals, the Commission will be engaging with CPUT and other institutions of learning as well as the Department of Education with a view to address how these institutions are dealing with the issue of racism and what steps are being taken to foster greater tolerance and integration.  These institutions both at primary, secondary and tertiary level have a crucial role to play in building a culture of non violence, non racism and tolerance.  Further attention needs to be given to how these institutions both through the learning curriculum and through institutional mechanisms foster a culture of alternative conflict dispute resolution and the extent to which there are projects which address the structural and systemic workings of racism.

The CPUT students actions cannot be viewed isolation.  Racist ideology pervades our society and institutions of learning and therefore needs to be addressed in a systemic manner.
This complaint must be seen in light of the many complaints received by the Commission on the use of social media in ways that are derogatory or hateful towards others.  Users of these platforms do not realise that their comments are publicised and instantly available online. Once these comments are posted they are in the public domain. 

The Commission is grateful that one of the respondent’s parents also attended this meeting. This indicates an intergenerational commitment to addressing societal problems. It was remarked that the process was “constructive and helped to address the damage done in a positive way”.  The parents also appreciated the fact that the Commission facilitated a process that allowed the respondents the opportunity to make amends and to also be part of the solution.



Vincent Moaga on 073 562 9866/011 877 3636
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