After a national uproar over racist comments on social media, South Africa's ruling party is calling for a new law to prohibit the "glorification of apartheid," based on German laws that criminalize the denial of the Holocaust.
The latest outrage over racism is a sign of the rising tensions in South Africa, once lauded as a "rainbow nation" and a moral beacon for the world after apartheid ended in 1994.
In today's South Africa, with its stagnating economy and growing frustration among unemployed youth, there is mounting anger over racial remarks by the affluent white minority. Many white people, for their part, are openly resentful of their diminished status.
The latest furor erupted on social media when a realtor, Penny Sparrow, complained that black people with "no education" were leaving garbage on public beaches. "From now I shall address the blacks of South Africa as monkeys," she said in a Facebook post.
Ms. Sparrow was denounced by thousands of outraged South Africans after her post emerged on Sunday. On the same day, a prominent South African banker, Chris Hart, went on Twitter to accuse the black majority of having "a sense of entitlement" and "hatred toward minorities." He, too, was widely criticized, and within a day he was suspended from his job at Standard Bank, which said his tweet was "incorrect" and had "racist undertones that do not reflect our values."
There are already laws against hate speech in South Africa, and there is even a court, the Equality Court, to deal with cases of racial discrimination. But the ruling party, the African National Congress, says this is not enough.
"We can no longer as a nation tolerate such dehumanizing violations, where the black majority are treated as subhumans and are referred to as monkeys, baboons and other derogatory racist epithets in the land of their birth," said a statement on Tuesday by the ANC's parliamentary office.
"As the nation is justifiably seething with anger and disappointment at yet another blatant act of racial bigotry, we know too well that there is little that can be done in terms of our legislative provisions to sufficiently punish the perpetrators."
The political party to which Ms. Sparrow belonged, the opposition Democratic Alliance, went to the police on Monday to file criminal charges of "crimen injuria" against her. This is a provision in South African common law that prohibits a serious attack on the dignity of another person.
But the ANC wants a tougher law, modelled on the European laws that prohibit the denial of the Holocaust. Any action against Ms. Sparrow and Mr. Hart is likely to be "whitewashed" under the existing system, it said. "The current legislative provisions are not sufficient to punish and dissuade racists," it said.
"As the majority party in Parliament, we will soon investigate creating a specific law or amending the existing legislation to ensure that acts of racism and promotion of apartheid are criminalized and punishable by imprisonment."
Anyone who "glorifies" the apartheid system "essentially promotes and celebrates acts of criminality committed against black people," the ANC added. "Such a person represents a serious danger to our society and our national reconciliation efforts, and must be dealt with through our criminal justice system."
The ANC said it was disturbed by white people who use the term "reverse racism" to attack the government's efforts to promote "black economic empowerment" and affirmative action in employment. This "trivializes" racism, it said.
The ANC also referred to the case of Democratic Alliance MP Dianne Kohler Barnard, who was expelled from the DA after she shared a Facebook post from a journalist who praised a former apartheid president, P.W. Botha, and said life was better under apartheid. The MP apologized for the post and appealed the expulsion, and was recently allowed to return to the party.
Studies have found a widening rift between black people and white people in South Africa. A recent survey of more than 2,200 South Africans found that 49 per cent described race as a key source of social division – up from 37 per cent two years earlier.
More than 60 per cent said racial relations have worsened or stayed the same since the demise of apartheid, and two-thirds said they had "little or no trust" in people of a different race, according to the survey, conducted by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, a South African think tank.
"It is clear that race continues to define us, and that the reconciliation project of the 1990s has secured relatively little purchase in the deeper reaches of our cultural and social structures," said a statement on Tuesday by Sello Hatang, chief executive of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, in response to the latest racism furor.
"These incidents reflect a deeper social malaise, which the Nelson Mandela Foundation believes is unravelling the post-apartheid project."