AfriForum’s attempt to shut down political free speech had a “chilling effect” and its attempt to limit posts on social media were “oppressive” and “unjustified”, the Western Cape High Court has found.
The judgment by Judge AJ Donen referred to social media posts by Johan Pienaar of Open Stellenbosch on Facebook following an “End Rape Culture” campaign at Stellenbosch University.
Part of the campaign resulted in the campaign slogan being scribbled in chalk all over the campus, including a statue of JS Marais, a major donor in 1918 who enabled the transition of the then Victoria College into Stellenbosch University.
AfriForum, represented by its head of local government, Marcus Pawson, in the court action against Pienaar, took it upon itself to clean the campus and the statue, which led to Pienaar’s postings on social media.
“I witnessed AfriForum supporters threaten to rape women today and then, when they found out that the one protester was a rape survivor, mocked her by shouting ‘don’t rape her again, she’s been done’. I will just leave this here for all you guys who told me about the good work AfriForum is doing,” wrote Pienaar, stating that Pawson and Co had threatened student Nosi Matlwane, and Melissa Sparrow of the Open Stellenbosch movement.
There was more in this vein – with video – on Pienaar’s social media, which led to Pawson filing for an urgent injunction against Pienaar and an order that he remove the posts.
Donen found that AfriForum constituted a political party, which threw the doors wide open for the court to come down hard on Pawson’s attempt to shut down Pienaar’s posts.
He said that, in Pienaar’s version, AfriForum’s conduct went “beyond the boundaries of lawful conduct”.
“This shows that AfriForum supporters sexually assaulted Ms Sparrow, Ms Matlwane and Ms Bruns and sexually intimidated them,” Donan said, and added Pawsons’ and “one Pieter de Villiers’ behaviour ” embodied the phenomenon that the End Rape Culture campaign justifiably sought to eliminate.
“Whether or not AfriForum supporters threatened to rape Ms Sparrow in the literal sense of the word, they nevertheless did inflict their rape culture on her and other women present,” said Donan.
Pawson said his lawyers were busy studying the judgment and would decide on what steps would be taken, if any.
“We differ significantly with the judge, the reason being the judge only listened to one version of what happened that day,” Pawson said, adding that video evidence he had handed in was excluded by the court, which would have had a “significant impact” on the case.
Pienaar said on Facebook the judgment was “a devastating judgment against a body that masquerades as a civil organisation that defends constitutional rights”.
“Which decent human being, let alone an organisation claiming to fight for civil rights, will tell a victim of sexual assault and intimidation by their supporters that she should have removed herself from the situation regardless of the implications to her right to protest and right to dignity,” Pienaar said.