Miss South Africa, Shudufhadzo Musida, is the recent victim of cyberbullying. Social media comments suggest South Africa has a long road ahead of addressing gender-based violence and cyberbullying in society.
In January 2019, Miss South Africa posted photos of herself wearing a bikini. Critics chastised her for failing to consider more important issues currently being faced by society. The Miss South Africa Organisation described the attacks against Ms Musida as cyberbullying.
What does South African law say about cyberbullying and is there any recourse?
No precise definition or legislation in respect of cyberbullying currently exists in South African law. However, cyberbullying can best be described as bullying or harassment, by electronic means such as a cellphone or laptop. It is “repeated behaviour, aimed at scaring, angering, or shaming those who are targeted" (UNICEF).
Cyberbullying can take the forms of:
Further clarification on cyberbullying can be found in the Protection from Harassment Act 17 of 2011. Therein, cyberbullying is described as harassment which includes “directly or indirectly engaging in conduct that the respondent knows or ought to know causes harm or inspires the reasonable belief that harm may be caused to the complainant or, a related person by unreasonably:
Following, watching, pursuing or, accosting of the complainant or a related person or, loitering outside of or near the building or place where the complainant or a related person resides, works, carries on business, studies or happens to be;
Engaging in verbal, electronic or any other communication aimed at the complainant or a related person, by any means, whether or not conversation ensues; or
Sending, delivering or causing the delivery of letters, telegrams, packages, facsimiles, electronic mail or other objects to the complainant or a related person or leaving them where they will be found by, given to or brought to the attention of, the complainant or a related person.
Victims of cyberbullying may rely on remedies in Civil and/or Criminal law.
In terms of Civil Law, individuals may apply for a Protection Order in the Magistrate Court located nearest to the victim’s place of residence. An application form is provided at the Magistrate Court or can be found online here.
In terms of Criminal Law, perpetrators may be charged with the following:
Criminal injustice, which is the unlawful, intentional and serious violation of the dignity or privacy of another person; and
Criminal defamation, which is the unlawful and intentional publishment of a matter concerning another person that seriously injures his or her reputation
With the dominating role technology plays in everyday life, cyberbullying is certainly an area of law in need of development in the form of legislation and stricter regulation.