Karen Milner, who is chair of the Gauteng Region of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies details her experiences after deciding to lodge a crimen injuria case against a white supremacist for running a disturbing website. She has since got a restraining order against him after he posted her photos and personal information online.
On Thursday 29 July, 2021, I won a final restraining order against a man called Jan Lamprecht, but this was never supposed to be about me. Instead, it was the penultimate stop in a journey that had always been about protecting my community from an individual who, by his own admission, wanted nothing less than the eradication of us – and people like us – from the face of the earth.
The saga started last July, in the middle of South Africa’s first lockdown, when I was alerted to a website run by Lamprecht, an ultra-right-wing white supremacist. As I waded through all its unashamed adulation of racist terrorists; from South Africa’s own Wit Wolf Barend Strydom to Norway’s Andres Breivik; Brenton Tarrant, who shot up the faithful at the Christchurch mosque in New Zealand; Dylann Roof, who slew nine worshippers at a church in Charleston in the US; and, John Earnest, who attacked a synagogue in California, I became very concerned.
Lone wolf killers, individuals motivated by race hatred, are a real threat to communities they perceive as their enemies. These murderers are very difficult to identify, and because of that, they pose a far more significant and exponentially worse threat. Lamprecht posted those terrorists’ manifestos with his own commentary, all of it uniformly virulently antisemitic, framed within an audio backdrop of what sounded like Adolf Hitler’s Nuremberg rallies exhorting the Germans to eradicate Jews. Lamprecht was endorsing them and actively encouraging others to follow suit.
Antisemitism is a massive problem globally, but fortunately not as much as a problem here in South Africa. We are very fortunate for many reasons; a true sense of ubuntu, generosity of spirit and shared nationhood generally, but especially the power of our institutions that protect all South Africans. Because of precisely this, I decided to initially lodge a case of crimen injuria against Lamprecht and let the police and the NPA do their job. I knew it would take time, given both the backlogs of the court rolls and the pressures that the pandemic had placed on all of us, so we all settled back to let the process take its course. But then, I received a very strange email. It was clearly linked to the case, but I had never made that public; no one knew that I had made the complaint – except for Lamprecht and the few people in my own community.
Picture posted on site
I went back onto Lamprecht’s website to find that he had posted my picture and all my details there, inspiring a barrage of misogyny and hatred from his supporters. I don’t have to go into the details of what I was called or what would be done to me; we live in a country with an appalling record of gender-based violence, this was perfectly in keeping with that, overlaid by the loathsome racist hatred that is Lamprecht’s stock in trade.
I was concerned, obviously. I am a public figure because of my community work, but I also work on a university campus, where my personal details and the address of my office are public record. We also live in a country with high levels of violent crime and easy access to weapons, especially firearms. The good news was that because of Covid-19, I was working mostly from home. My lawyers suggested that due to the personal harassment against me, we shouldn’t wait for the crimen injuria case to take its course, but to go for a restraining order against Lamprecht.
The importance of the magistrate’s judgment in making this order final is that she fully understood the ramifications of what Lamprecht was trying to achieve. Lamprecht is not just an antisemite; he’s a racist white supremacist who inspires other white people to hate and to vilify anyone who isn’t like them. The videos, the articles and the commentary he posts demonise Jews. If you were to believe what he says, you would agree that his hatred is justified because such satanic people (his words) should not be allowed to exist in a civilised society. It’s precisely how antisemitism has existed and flourished for millennia; it’s exactly the same trope that led to the publication of the Zionist Protocols at the end of the 19th Century and laid the groundwork for the Holocaust 50 years later that literally led to 6-million Jews being slaughtered in Nazi extermination camps.
Freedom of speech, to criticise a government without fear of persecution, is one thing, but no one has the right to propagate hate speech. That’s something that our Constitution outlaws and correctly so in a country such as ours where the scars of our past are still raw and unhealed. As South Africans, we know the terrible consequences of demonisation. We know what happens when you render groups of people lesser or better because of the colour of their skin, the language they speak, their gender or their sexual orientation. Apartheid, which the UN declared a crime against humanity, was allowed to continue precisely because of this rationale of ‘othering’ for as long as it did. We live with the legacy of this structural discrimination to this day.
I make no apologies for my beliefs. People can believe what they like, but that right ends immediately when it comes to promulgating hatred and dehumanisation because that always ends in violence – and death. Words kill. As Constitutional Court Justice Steven Majeidt noted in his ruling on the Jon Qwelane hate speech matter, “It is a truth universally acknowledged that [t]o be hated, despised, and alone is the ultimate fear of all human beings. Speech is powerful – it has the ability to build, promote and nurture, but it can also denigrate, humiliate and destroy.”
The law hasn’t run its course with Lamprecht yet. He still has a criminal case to face and the consequences that will come with that.
– Professor Karen Milner is the chair of the Gauteng Region of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies.
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