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Mabel Jansen: Fit To Hold Judicial Office?

A white South African judge has been strongly condemned for purportedly saying on social media that rape was part of the culture of black men.

Mabel Jansen
Image Source: eNCA

This follows an online conversation being made public, in which Jansen claims that rape is part of black culture.

The Ahmed Kathrada Foundation supports calls being made to the Judicial Service Commission to investigate Mabel Jansen and review her fitness to hold judicial office.

Judge Mabel Jansen said the gang-rape of babies, girls and women was seen as a “pleasurable” pastime.  A petition has been launched to demand her removal as a judge. She said her comments had been taken out of context.

South Africa has been hit by a spate of racism rows in recent months, triggered by comments on social media. The government has responded by saying that it intends to toughen anti-racism laws.

Jansen’s racist statements follow two other recent incidents, in which the ‘k-word’ was used online. The first saw Matthew Theunissen lashing out against Sports and Recreation Minister Fikile Mbalula’s decision to ban several sporting codes from bidding for international events due to a lack of transformation. Theunissen used the k-word when venting his anger about transformation. In the second incident, a Matlosana SPCA manager Suzette Kotze was reportedly suspended from her post following a social media rant that also made use of the k-word.

Neeshan Balton, Ahmed Kathrada
Neeshan Balton with Ahmed Kathrada

The Ahmed Kathrada Foundation’s director, Neeshan Balton, commended members of the public for challenging these overt forms of racism, but stated that stringent action needed to be taken by the relevant authorities against racist individuals.

“We have written to the South African Human Rights Commission, calling on it to investigate the cases, and deal with the matter with the seriousness that it deserves. We are also calling on the Judicial Service Commission to similarly investigate Mabel Jansen’s comments, and assess whether she is fit to hold judicial office,” he stated. “One would have to question if Jansen’s racist views would have had an impact on the cases of black offenders, which she may have presided over.”

Balton added that the continuous surfacing of overt racism raised the question of the validity of criminalising racism. “While legislation will not change people’s thinking, it will certainly put a lid on the public display of racism,” he said.

However, Balton noted that the difficulty was in getting offenders to understand just how offensive and dangerous their statements are, without them providing excuses that they “they are not racist because they have friends who are black”.

“What is common in all three cases, is that the offenders are all educated. There can be no excuse of being ignorant, or having a lack of exposure, or not being able to interact with black people in post-apartheid South Africa. The only other conclusion that one can draw from their statements, is that their racism forms a core part of the way in which they have been socialised, how they have been brought up and how they live their lives today,” he said.

“It is shocking that in several of these cases, the individuals just cannot understand the complete hurt their statements have caused and ill feeling that it develops towards white people in general, even though their views are not representative of all white people.

The challenge for us doing anti-racism work, is how do we engage such people and understand how they have come to hold such world views, and what is needed to change this. Other than making their utterances illegal, how do we get people to understand racism in its full complexity?

What is clear following these incidents though, is that these sentiments have angered South Africans across the racial lines, and has made it clear that fighting the demon of racism requires the joint effort of all.”

ahmed kathrada foundationThe latest row, involving a judge, has raised many uncomfortable questions – top of the list being how many other judges harbour such apparently prejudiced views, despite the fact that they are supposed to see all people as equal before the law.

Many South Africans on social media are calling for her to be sacked, and legal experts say her comments could open the way for convicted black people to appeal against her rulings.

Racism on social media is becoming a common feature in South Africa, and some analysts say the time for a frank conversation about how to tackle the problem has come.

The concept of the rainbow nation, established in 1994 after the end of racial segregation, seems to be coming apart at the seams. Can it be rebuilt or will the situation get worse?

Sources: Kathrada Foundation, BBC, Facebook

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