The Constitution, in section 16(1), recognises the right to freedom of expression – and that includes biased, stereotypical perceptions, such as Mr Mabote’s article – and the press provides a platform for the exchange of diverse opinions. As much as Mr Mabote’s right to express his view is protected, the view of former students challenging his uninformed assumptions are protected. The limit however, is that the right to freedom of expression does not include hate speech, as narrowly defined in the Constitution. Fortunately for Mr Mabote, his article does not amount to “advocacy of hatred” based on race “which constitutes incitement to harm”.

Mr Mabote’s article perhaps does raise the point that there appears to be a need to openly discuss what ‘transformation’ in South Africa means, and especially why speaking Afrikaans, and wishing to attend an Afrikaans school, is considered a barrier to his perception of ‘transformation’?

The attack on Helpmekaar could have been an attack on any Afrikaans school. This school just happens to be a private school, one of hundreds in Gauteng. Various sections of the Constitution protect language rights, such as sections 30 and 31. Section 29(2) of the Constitution specifically recognises the right to receive education in one’s mother tongue, if “reasonably practicable” at public educational institutions. Private schools, being independent educational institutions maintained at their own expense, are also afforded constitutional recognition. Importantly – and this is what Mr Mabote’s article neglects to mention – is that section 29(3)(a) of the Constitution specifically prohibits private schools from discriminating on the basis of race. Helpmekaar might have predominately white learners but the school also has learners of other races. Sadly, what Mr Mabote has done is to reinforce a draconian apartheid stereotype that Afrikaans is only spoken by white South Africans. Ironically, according to the latest IRR South Africa Survey, Afrikaans is the third most spoken home language in South Africa.

In a democratic society, it is crucial to debate issues which will shape the society the Constitution envisages. Mr Mabote’s responsibility, as a social commentator, should be to honestly debate issues, and raise sincere questions. If that was his intention, he would have first ensured his facts were correct. Furthermore, if he intended to honestly debate the issue of ‘transformation’ he would have refrained from relying on stereotypes which only fuel racial intolerance, especially towards those who choose to be taught in Afrikaans. The Preamble of the Constitution emphasises the need for “unity in diversity” but articles such Mr Mabote’s do not unite us in our diversity – rather they create and perpetuate racial stereotypes.

By Ms Christine Botha*: Legal Officer, Centre for Constitutional Rights

*Ms Botha is a former student of Helpmekaar

**Article first published on News24