International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

ICC to Look Into Zulu King’s Xenophobic Speech

A Nigerian human rights group known as the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, or SERAP, has petitioned the ICC’s OTP to look into allegations of inciteful hate speech committed by Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini in South Africa. Bensouda has opted to investigate the xenophobic attacks that have said to have resulted from Zwelithini’s speech.zulu kings

In a March gathering in Pongola, northern KwaZulu-Natal, Zwelithini talked about the inconvenience that foreigners, such as Nigerians and other Africans living in South Africa, have posed to locals in his country. Allegedy, he told gatherers that “foreigners must pack their bags and go home.” Not long after in April, xenophobic violence flared up in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, killing at least seven people and displacing thousands more.

SERAP, in its petition, argues that Zwelithini’s hate speech created the conditions for this violence to occur, crimes of which the group asserts are crimes against humanity that violate the Rome Statute. In addition to Zwelithini’s words, SERAP argues that South African law enforcement is complicit in the violence, as they failed to take steps to stop the abuse against non-nationals. Police Minister Nathi Nheleko was present when Zwelithini made his speech, yet no steps have been taken by the police to counteract the speech’s effects.

Given that the government itself has been implicated in this xenophobia and that law enforcement has failed to act to protect non-national targets, SERAP argues that the conditions are present to justify a proprio motu investigation by Mrs. Fatou Bensouda. The national judiciary is likely to be unwilling to try Zwelithini for his incitements to hatred, thus allowing the ICC to step in under the principle of complementarity and as a court of last resort.

This case will be interesting to watch, especially since Chief Prosecutor Bensouda has decided to look into the situation already. As we have seen in many cases, incitements to violence have been powerful weapons used in many cases to cause mass amounts of violence. In Rwanda, the media was a huge reason why so many regular Rwandans acted out on the hate speech directed at Hutus, resulting in a massive amount of violence in only 100 days. In Cote d’Ivoire, as well, hate speech was generated by political leaders and the media, ultimately leading to an eruption of violence against non-Ivorians. The power of hate speech to incite mass violence, in light of these past cases, surely must not be underestimated in the current situation in South Africa. Given their history of apartheid, any attempt at categorizing different South African citizens is frightening and should not be ignored.


2 responses to “ICC to Look Into Zulu King’s Xenophobic Speech

  1. krissylik May 1, 2015 at 3:40 pm

    I agree that this type of hate speech is similar to what we saw during the Rwandan genocide as well as Cote d’Ivoire. However King Goodwill has no official power in modern South Africa and his threats to outsiders hold no actual weight so he cannot be tried for commanding any crimes to be committed. I am interested to see what Bensouda finds in her investigation though I am doubtful the King will be indicted. The crimes, while racially fueled, were not systematic or widespread.

  2. dlxodus May 1, 2015 at 9:55 pm

    According to figures released by South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs, five Nigerian-owned shops were looted, two Nigerian families were displaced, two Nigerians were wounded, two women were displaced, and two children were “affected.” Without doubt, xenophobic speech incites xenophobic violence, and and those responsible should be tried should their hate speech so racial dividing as to spur possibility of genocide. However, as krissylik commented, given that King Goodwill has no official power in South Africa and that his threats to foreigners carry no weight, Goodwill will probably not be charged for commanding crimes. More important is how heads of state handle xenophobia. President Goodluck Jonathan, for instance, dismissed the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – Ambassador Danjuma Sheni – for causing “huge embarrassment” in the way xenophobia in South Africa has been handled. Furthermore, the minister of Foreign Affairs – Ambassador Aminu Wali – and his minister of State – Senator Musiliu Obanikoro – pleaded with Nigerians to forgive the South Africans over their recent xenophobic attacks against foreigners living in their country. Prompt measures taken by government officials if anything deescalated tensions between South Africans and foreigners – this is in direct contrast to government officials fueling racial divide as was the case in the Rwandan and Cote d’Ivoire genocide.

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