21 July 2008

Reckless rhetoric or freedom of speech?

clipped from www.thetimes.co.za
Archbishop Desmond Tutu has lashed out at political leaders who use “intemperate, inflammatory” language.

He warned that political figures were perpetuating hostility with their reckless rhetoric.

Nearly 29000 of the foreigners were still displaced across the Western Cape, Gauteng and KwaZulu- Natal in June.

Tutu made the comments yesterday at Johannesburg’s St John’s College, during a mass to mark the xenophobic violence that swept South Africa recently.

He linked irresponsible rhetoric with the violence that displaced 47000 foreign nationals in May.

“What has happened when it seems no longer to matter how you’ve behaved, whether you have integrity, that these [characteristics] are deemed irrelevant for public office?” Tutu asked.

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South Africa has a democratic constitution that protects freedom of speech. In saying things like this is Bishop Tutu trying to place an unconstitutional limitation on freedom of speech?

Some bloggers seem to think so, like Richard Catto on his Cape Town News blog.

I am reminded of a case that was reported several years ago, of a professor at an American university, who lost his job because of his communist sympathies. The case came to court, as he accused the university authorities of trying to suppress his right to freedom of speech. The university countered by arguing that if the communists came to power they would abridge everyone's right to freedom of speech.

The court found for the professor, and said that he had only talked of abridging the freedom of speech of others, whereas the university, by firing him, had actually abridged his freedom of speech, and had therefore done in fact what he was only talking about.

The Times report cited above doesn't actually say that Archbishop Desmond Tutu criticised Zwelinzima Vavi -- the reference was implied rather than actual. But even if he did, was he abridging Zwelinzima Vavi's freedom of speech?

Zwelinzima Vavi's reported statements that he would "kill for Jacob Zuma" can be interpreted in various ways. They could, for example, be interpreted to mean that he would kill for Jacob Zuma in the same way that people in Zimbabwe are killing for Robert Mugabe -- killing those who are suspected of voting against him. And that would indeed destroy our constitution -- freedom of speech must be balanced against other rights. It is not an absolute right, sprueme over all others.
And if that is so, it would seem contradictory, because Cosatu, of which Vavi is Secretary General, is on record as regarding Robert Mugabe as the enemy of the working class. And doesn't freedom of speech include freedom to criticise certain kinds of speech, as Archbishop Desmond Tutu has done?

1 comment:

Ben said...

very insightful, great post


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