‘Letter is hate speech’
Pietermaritzburg minority rights group charged with inciting tension between Africans and Indians
APort Shepstone human rights activist has laid crimen injuria charges against a minority-rights organisation over a newspaper article claiming life in Pietermaritzburg’s Indian areas was better under apartheid than it is today.
Ashika Ajudia, who works for the Port Shepstone Human Rights Centre, laid the charge against the SA Minority Rights Equality Movement (Samrem) late last month over a letter published in Galaxy News, a Pietermaritzburg community newspaper, in August last year.
Samrem – an organisation formed several years ago by a number of individuals, including Pietermaritzburg advocate Ashin Singh, to lobby for the rights of the Indian community – has been involved in a series of slanging matches in the newspaper.
Samrem’s views conflict with those of Indian ANC activists in the town over the state of Northdale and other Indian areas in KwaZulu-Natal’s capital. In the letter-writing war in the local paper, the Samrem executive committee complained of the influx of African “squatters” into Northdale and other northern Pietermaritzburg suburbs.
The organisation made headlines in 2011 after it threatened to lay hate speech charges against then ANC youth league president Julius Malema over his use of the term “amakula” (“coolies”) in a public speech. The charge was withdrawn after a meeting between the two organisations.
Last year, Samrem laid charges in the Equality Court against Phumlani Mfeka, the leader of Njenje yama-Nguni, over hate speech against Indians.
In the letter headlined “Northdale suburbs – far worse now than under apartheid”, Samrem said: “The northern suburbs is starting to resemble what the ANC-led municipality wants: a former Indian area invaded by squatters, who urinate and s*** in public in makeshift structures, next to houses and schools, in full view of the public.”
In her statement to police, Ajudia said she read the newspaper last month and was “particularly offended and disturbed” about a letter written by Samrem member “D. Pillay” headlined “Northdale suburbs – far worse now than under apartheid”.
She said the letter, which carried Pillay’s cellphone number and was issued in the name of Samrem, was “racially motivated, denigrating fellow black African members of the community on behalf of the minority community of which I am a member”.
“I fear that such an article incites racial tensions against Indian and African communities. This fear is very real and, as a single parent, I feel that Samrem, its executive and its members, if any, must be investigated for inciting racial tensions which – if left unattended – can lead to violence as was experienced during the xenophobic violence in 2015,” she said.
SA Police Service spokesperson Lieutenant Nqobile Gwala confirmed a charge of crimen injuria had been opened in Port Shepstone and transferred to Pietermaritzburg’s Mountain Rise Police Station.
“It is alleged the complainant read the newspaper article from a Pietermaritzburg newspaper which contained hate speech that could lead to racial tension. No arrest has been made and the investigation is continuing,” Gwala said.
In a written response to questions from City Press on Friday morning, Samrem chairperson Daleep Lutchman said they were not aware of any charges against them.
“We cannot speculate as to the source of your information, but Samrem treats speculative information/hearsay with the contempt it deserves. Samrem bases arguments on truth and verifiable facts,’’ he said.
Pillay declined to comment.