Freedom of speech is no licence to tribalism

Not to speak or express one’s thoughts – for whatever reason – is a violation of one’s liberty. A free Mthwakazi state must commit to respecting the right for people to hold views and freely express them; people must be free to proclaim truth and not be silenced through fear. We are not oblivious to the consequences of that political positioning; indeed we are fully aware of the implications including that it may mean having to deal with uncomfortable revelations – facts or unfounded allegations.

For purposes of debate, our reference point is the US Constitution First Amendment which proclaims:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

U.S. Constitution

It is as simple as that, the movement must trust the people who have entrusted it with the power to represent them. The pro-Mthwakazi movement shall not subscribe to the systemic silencing of the voices of opponents not because we have no skeletons but because we have none to hide from our people. We may not be perfect but we are comfortable in who we are and not afraid to have any identifiable imperfections pointed out by citizens for purposes of redemption and the betterment of this and the next generation.

Copyright ©Asia Times (2019). Without freedom of expression, there can never be independence. Freedom of speech has been under attack in most of Africa and Zimbabwe, in particular, for many years

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

United Nations, Universal Declaration of Human Rights

A lesson from our involuntary association with Zimbabwe has taught us that for whatever reasons, tolerating the suppression of free speech is politically retrogressive, it nurtures State unaccountability and leads to further repressive measures until the State becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear. We want to break off that political cycle.

The country comes first, the principle of pro-Mthwakazi politics must be: Pay your allegiance to your leaders sometimes and to your country, always. For the love of your country, be its toughest critic; do not be afraid to criticise the leadership, withhold your support when it is not deserved for that is the most patriotic act.

We all have a duty to our country, ourselves and to each other. Feel free to hold an opinion and to express yourself, but remember you are practically and morally responsible for every word you say; whatever you say, do no harm to others.

Clearly, it will never be in pro-Mthwakazi movement’s interest to curtail freedom of speech but we need to make sure no one is free from the consequences of the impact of their words. Remember, it is not the intentions but the impact against which your speech will be judged. As a nation we cannot accept tribalism to be the new norm; it cannot and must not be our way of living, and we have to resist becoming numb to its shameful consequences.

We cannot emphasise this enough, your right to free speech is unnegotiable and essential to our democracy and the future of the nation. However, freedom of speech is not equivalent to chaos or a free for all; while the First Amendment protects core political speech, expressive speech, and most types of commercial speech, speech that can cause harm to others is not protected, e.g. obscenity, inciting violence, true threats, child pornography, defamatory, violation of property rights or invasion of privacy.

Copyright ©The Vidette (2020) Freedom of speech is not the same as hate speech

Following from above clarification, proportionate legal provisions must be put in place to ensure freedom of speech is not abused or unfairly removed from citizens. It is noted too that freedom of speech does not trump all other considerations, such as the safety of the public. Therefore when an individual’s right to free speech comes into conflict with the requirements of public safety and/ or national security that right cannot be allowed to prevail.  

No one has the right to cause harm to others in the name of freedom of speech, tribalism has damaging outcomes to individuals and communities and our people should be left under no illusion that tribalism is not a right but bigotry hence it is punishable. Those who choose to use their freedom of speech to spew hatred including tribalism have no leg to stand on.

Far from being freedom of speech, the vilification of specific tribes presents a crisis of credibility for the Mthwakazi movement. People cannot use freedom of expression as a licence to trigger tribalism and nurture hatred against sections of our population; care and responsibility is called upon in the use of provisions of freedom of speech.

We understand there can be a blurring of boundaries between free speech and hate speech, but pro-Mthwakazi will do all it takes to protect individual views and expressions thereof. Hate speech does not, and never has amounted to freedom of speech; tribalism, threats of violence, obscenity, invasion of privacy, etc. are criminal offences not protected speech. However, the fact that some opinions, beliefs and speech may be controversial or even offensive to others cannot of itself be reason to curtail freedom of expression.

Published by THE RESEARCH HUB

a progressive politics and policy researcher and author with an interest in Mthwakazi (Matabeleland) human rights, liberties, safety and security.

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