FHM model Jessica Leandra dos Santos used the word “kaffir” in a tweet on May 3, summoning South Africa’s nasty history of racism and segregation. “Kaffir” is South Africa’s version of the n-word in the United States. It may even cut deeper in South Africa, however, in South Africa, because the wounds of apartheid are still fresh.
“Just, well took on a on arrogant and disrespectful kaffir inside Spar. Should have punched him, should have,” she tweeted. The backlash came immediately, forcing the model to delete the tweet within hours. Dos Santos later claimed that the incident inside Spar, a South African supermarket, came after she was confronted with sexual remarks.
To be clear, “kaffir” is a term that was long used by European colonists and their descendants to describe native Africans. The divisive term is labeled as hate speech, meaning that its use can result in prosecution.
In her own defense Dos Santos tweeted, “Would u all stop! These are the kinds of people that land up raping young girls of our country! I wasn’t going to let him get away with it.” Of course, feminism is not a defense to racism. By tying the actions of one man to a race, the model has incited the rage of a nation.
Regardless of her intention when including the word in her tweet, Dos Santos made herself into an international model for ignorance, using a slur with a heavy past so lightly. In South Africa, the use of hate speech and racial slurs on Internet social media outlets can actually result in criminal charges. A columnist there, Mabine Seabe II, announced a complaint he filed with the Human Rights Commission against Jessica Leandra Dos Santos via twitter.
FHM magazine’s South African branch has already distanced itself from Dos Santos, condemning the model’s comments. She was stripped of her title as the winner of magazine’s 2011 Modelbook competition, and will no longer appear in its pages.