A prominent Somali community leader has been accused of hate speech against South African Indians after posting a status message on Facebook in which he infers Indians in Johannesburg are best off dead. RA’EESA PATHER reports.
A screenshot of Amir Sheikh’s Facebook message was shared across social networks, and users immediately called the statement’s anti-Indian leanings “hate speech”. In his status, Sheikh wrote that a recent trip to the “Bombay of South Africa (Durban)” has transformed his feelings toward Indians, because he now believes that “Millions of Good, caring, loving and humane Indians” exist in the world.
According to Sheikh, however, these Indians don’t exist in Mayfair, an Indian-populated suburb in Johannesburg. “I believe the only dead ones [Indians] are the 8th Avenuephopic or Neighborphopic Indians in Mayfair and its surroundings,” Sheikh wrote on Facebook, referencing a quotation that claims, “The only good Indians are dead Indians.”
Mayfair has become a hub for immigrants in Johannesburg, particularly Somalis, Ethiopians and Malawians. Tensions between some sectors of the South African community in Mayfair and their Somali counterparts have become more pronounced in recent years, with some Somalis in the suburb reporting xenophobic behaviour from their South African neighbours.
In the recent spate of xenophobic attacks in April 2015, Mayfair continued to be a source of refuge for Somalis searching for safety. One Somali man who has lived in Mayfair shared his experience of the suburb in a Facebook comment.
“It is so sad to listen and spread someone’s ill intentions of trying to create anomosity in our naighbourhood (sic),” wrote Abdur Rahman Mohamed in a comment on the post. “I have been living this naigbourhood (sic) for the last 15 years and I find our Indians hosts welcoming and friendly never experienced any harm from any one.”
Sheikh told The Daily Vox he stands by his comments and welcomes the matter to be reported to the South African Human Rights Commission*. If a complaint is lodged with the SAHRC, it won’t be Sheikh’s first encounter with the human-rights body because of comments he has made on Facebook. At the time of the previours incident, in 2014, Sheikh defended his comments by saying he was executing his right to freedom of expression.
Add your comments: Do Sheikh’s comments constitute freedom of expression or hate speech?
– Featured image: Via the Somali South Africa group on Facebook.
Editor’s note: * An earlier version of this story stated that Sheikh belongs to a hate crimes committee called the Hate Crimes Working Group (HCWG). Sheikh told The Daily Vox that he had been working with the the HCWG for six years, but on Friday HCWG said that he is not a member. The article has been updated to reflect this.