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Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Businessman guilty of hate speech (South Africa)

A wealthy businessman who painted the words "I am a monkey" on the chest of an African child attending his daughter's birthday party, has been ordered to unconditionally apologise and pay R15 000 in damages to the child's father.

Durban's Equality Court magistrate, John Sander, ruled that the discrimination suffered by the child and his father "strikes at their human dignity - the heartbeat of our democracy and our constitution".

The father, a sergeant in the defence force, laid the complaint against Deven Pillay with the help of the Human Rights Commission. He cannot be named to protect the identity of his son, who is now 12, but was 10 at the time.
Pillay denied the allegations, saying someone else had written the words on the child. He claimed that the father was attempting to extort money from him because, compared to his neighbours, he was "a man of means".

The court heard evidence that the children's party was held at Pillay's home in an SA National Defence Force complex because his wife is in the navy.

Pillay said he had spent R20 000 on a jumping castle and told his daughter she could invite whoever she wanted. She invited all the children in the street - about 60 to 70 - including the complainant's son.

The young boy returned home that day with "I am a monkey" written on his chest and a misspelt "I am a gorilla" on his back.
He said Pillay had written on the front of his chest. After seeing it, another child had written the other sign on his back.

While the son testified that he was not upset at all by the incident, his father said in his complaint to the court: "I am extremely upset by this crass, racist act and the insulting behaviour directed at my child. Painting this on the chest of an African child amounts to dissemination of propaganda or ideas which propound the racial inferiority of Africans."

In spite of Pillay's denial that he wrote the words, the magistrate ruled that he had. He said the child had not seen anything wrong in the words, so he would not have lied about who had written them.

He accepted that Pillay was not generally a racist, taking into account that the vast majority of children there that day were African. He ruled, however, that Pillay was guilty of discrimination and hate speech, and ordered him to apologise and pay damages.