THE way to deal with the racism problem in SA is to devise a programme of redressing racial injustice — criminalising racism is not the solution.

This is the view of Joel Modiri‚ a researcher at the University of Pretoria’s department of jurisprudence‚ who was speaking at a seminar on criminalising racism.

"We are misapprehending the social conflict. What kind of freedom is this where the black majority needs protection from whites?" Modiri said at the seminar‚ hosted by the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism, in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

Modiri said there were two ways of approaching the problem. One was viewing racism as a matter of the heart and the remedy being to punish the action. This was a focus on interpersonal relationships. "This kind of approach leaves the social structure intact‚" Modiri said.

The second approach viewed racism as a structural problem, with the solution being centred on devising a programme of addressing racial injustice. "This view focuses on race as a question of power relations‚" Modiri said.

He suggested that the route to take was to address the social conflict by addressing structural inequalities.

"If you criminalise racism‚ the problem is you will intensify the racial conflict‚" Modiri said.

Deputy Justice Minister John Jeffery agreed with Modiri that racism was structural‚ but said the ANC had taken steps in the past 20 years to reduce inequality.

"Even in that context‚ something must be done when something hurtful is said‚" Jeffery said.

He said the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act of 2000 had a provision that prohibited unfair discrimination based on race.

Jeffery said the remedy for racial discrimination was the establishment of equality courts, which were civil courts.

He said the infamous Penny Sparrow was taken to the equality court in KwaZulu-Natal, where she was ordered to pay R150‚000 to the Oliver and Adelaide Tambo Foundation for her racist Facebook rant — she referred to black people as monkeys.

"There is a plethora of incidents where people seem to think they can say sorry and get away with it."

Jeffery said the ruling party felt that it was elected representatives who should make a decision on whether or not to criminalise racism.

"SA has been structured on racial differentiation for 300 years‚ with white being rich and black being poor."

TMG Digital