Hate speech is something we seem to underrate, yet its effects have regrettably been felt throughout history. From the Second World War to the genocide in Rwanda, one of the tools used to subdue was the use of hate speech to influence people into producing the desired effect. Notably in Rwanda the radio station was used to spread propaganda which caused hatred and resulted in the loss of many lives.
According to Wikipedia, hate speech is any speech, gesture or conduct, writing, or display which is forbidden because it may incite violence or prejudicial action against or by a protected individual or group, or because it disparages or intimidates a protected individual or group. The words have an effect of inciting violence, something we are all too familiar with in Zimbabwe. ‘Hate language is specifically intended to excite hostility and public contempt for those individuals or groups who are its targets to an extent that they no longer deserve to have their basic human rights protected.’
In Zimbabwe, hate speech has become a poisonous epidemic that has fractured and polarized society by promoting extreme levels of political and social intolerance and hostility towards any group. With little regard of what the law says, politicians continue to make careless statements that have over the years cost many people their lives.
Statements such as:-
People who promoted sanctions and opposed the land reform were enemies.
Minister urged chiefs to banish ‘people who support homosexuality’ from their communities and take away their land.
Zimbabwe will not be ruled by homosexuals or people who support it.
You can vote for him (Tsvangirai) but if he brings back the whites, toenda kuhondo” (we will go to war).
“Elections are coming and the army will not support or salute sell-outs and agents of the West before, during and after the presidential elections. We will not support anyone other than President Mugabe who has sacrificed a lot for the country.”
Hate speech can result in heinous crimes against a group that is viewed as the enemy. In The State Vs William Nhongo et al, in 2003, the High Court decided on a case of three men charged with killing MDC activists. They stated they had believed government media reports that they were indeed fighting a legitimate Chimurenga war against the MDC. As a result, the three responsible for killing the MDC activists were found guilty of culpable homicide and not murder.
The effects of hate speech can be seen from the violence unleashed on the people in 2008 during the election period. People were attacked because they ‘supported’ the wrong party and others raped, badly beaten, and tortured for reasons that seem directly related to the encouragement given by vicious hate speech.
But would you blame the perpetrators only for the violence if a leader openly stands up and says
We will never allow an event like an election to reverse our independence, our sovereignty, our sweat and all that we fought for …… all that our comrades died fighting for.
What then do these words say to people who voted for the opposition party? What do they say to the party fanatics, who will then find justification to ensure their party stays in power at all costs?
In my earnest view, hate speech by politicians has been allowed to go too far. If it is left to continue, there is no doubt the catastrophic events of 2008 will be repeated again during the next election.