Durban – Two men who labelled Mahatma Gandhi a racist and were nasty to Indian South Africans have been ordered to pay R42 000 in damages by a magistrate sitting in the Equality Court.
As a result of the ruling by Magistrate John Sanders, Phumlani Mfeka and Zweli Sangweni have three months to pay. The money will go to an orphanage in Richards Bay.
During 2013 and 2014, the two men referred to Gandhi as “a racist”, claimed Indians had “enslaved Africans” and made use of the “C-word” in a newsletter.
At the time both men were members of the Mazibuye African Forum.
The Ahmed Kathrada Foundation reported the matter to the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), and in April this year Mfeka and Sangweni were found guilty of hate speech directed against the Indian community in South Africa.
Speaking to the POST, Mfeka criticised the ruling and claimed the magistrate had followed an “unsavoury route” in dealing with the matter.
He said he and Sangweni would appeal against the ruling. They planned to meet their attorney this week to get the appeal process started.
Meanwhile, other citizens have welcomed the sanction, which was meted out on Monday.
Neeshan Bolton, the director of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, was pleased the matter had been finalised.
“It has been a long journey and we are encouraged that the commission continued with our report and took it to the court. We hope others learn from this and that a strong message is sent out that there is no place for hate speech, irrespective of the issue.”
Lawson Naidoo, the executive secretary of the Council for the Advancement of the Constitution, said the sanction indicated there was no place for hate speech in the country.
“It is an abuse of free speech and I welcome the punishment. It is important that hate speech is called out, to ensure more people become aware that it is not the right thing to do.”
The great-grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, Satish Dhupelia, said it was sad to live in a time when people felt comfortable making racist comments. He suggested that Mfeka and Sangweni spend more time with the Indian community to learn about the history of Indians in this country.
Dhupelia added that Gandhi taught forgiveness and to look at things in a positive way.
“Gandhi made mistakes and corrected himself along the way. If he was wrong, he learned from it and changed his view.”
Ashen Singh, the convener of the South African Minority Rights Equality Movement (SAMREM), said the fine was “too little, too late”.
“The utterances were made five years ago. At the time, we were the first group to raise our voices and report Mfeka and Sangweni to the Human Rights Commission. The ruling now won’t change the fact that there are many people out there with anti-Indian sentiments. Many politicians may have the same view as Mfeka, but won’t voice it.
“The reason why there are anti-Indian sentiments is because there is no one to stand up for the Indian community. Media and civic organisations have failed to stand up against racism.”
The national convener of the Anti-Racism Network South Africa, Sean Moodley, said issuing fines was not the answer.
“The justice part of this matter is the fine, but what about the restorative measures? Implement something to show the accused what they have done is wrong.”
On Monday, Magistrate Sanders was forced to impose his own sanction on the accused after the lawyers representing the two sides failed to reach agreement on the sentence.
In passing sentence, Magistrate Sanders said Mfeka and Sangweni were not remorseful for their utterances.
“Nothing during the course of these proceedings has given this court the slightest indication that the respondents are in any sense apologetic, nor do they have the slightest regret for their actions.
“I have thus decided that to order the respondents to apologise in the present circumstances would only demean this court, as well as the parties to whom the so-called apology would be directed Quite clearly, the respondents are consummate specialists in the art of apportioning blame to others while at the same time totally absolving themselves of any blame, or indeed responsibility, for their own undisputed actions.”
During proceedings the pair, through their attorney Mbongeleni Mchunu, asked that Magistrate Sanders impose a sanction calling for open dialogue and educational programmes instead of a fine.
Magistrate Sanders said while he accepted that Mfeka and Sangweni were financially not well off, he believed they would be able to pay the fine.
“What I do not accept is the notion that the respondents are men of straw, who are totally dependent on the largesse on their families for their survival. I come to this conclusion for the following reasons; the respondents are self-confessed activists who travel all over the city and the province engaged in their activities.
“It is thus highly probable that the respondents have some independent source of income which they have chosen not to divulge to this court. The notion that the respondents are totally reliant on their families’ generosity for their livelihood is highly improbable.”