A South African woman was sentenced Wednesday, March 28, in what’s believed to be the first prison term imposed for verbalized racial abuse.
In the landmark ruling, estate agent Vicky Momberg was sentenced to three years, with one year suspended for hurling racial slurs at a Black police officer, The Guardian reported. Video of 2016 incident went viral, showing the officer trying to help Momberg after thieves broke into her car one night at a shopping center.
Momberg pegged several insults at the officer, calling him a “kaffir,” an apartheid-era slur for a Black person, a total of 48 times. In the video, she demands to be helped by a white or Indian ethnic officer, and complained that Black people were “plain and simple useless” and “clueless.”
Magistrate Pravina Raghoonandan handed down the landmark ruling, saying the decision was intended to send a signal that racism won’t be tolerated in South Africa, according to the BBC. Historically, persons found guilty of committing the same crime have been fined. Therefore, imposing a direct prison sentence without the option of simply paying up would send a stronger message, she said.
Many people were pleased with the judge’s ruling, saying the decision signaled a turning point for South Africa in its fight against racism.
The #VickiMomberg ruling is a major step forward in the fight against racism. Lets hope the judicial prosecution of the hate speech lexicon also extends to other forms of bigotry which has long been used as a form of persecution
— Ryan Cummings (@Pol_Sec_Analyst) March 28, 2018
There's a difference between free speech and hate speech. She used the K-word 48 times. Magistrate Pravina Rungoonundan has set a good precedent in South Africa. It must apply to all people. If racism is not tackled, we will lose our country #VickiMomberg https://t.co/he26RD4Sdf
— Siphamandla Ndlovu (@SiphNdlovu) March 28, 2018
This #VickiMomberg imprisonment matter is ground breaking. Sets quite a precedent. Imagine going to prison coz you just couldn’t hold your tongue… Big Lesson here… HUGE!!
— Mpho Letsholonyane (@MphoMaboi) March 28, 2018
2 years behind bars for #VickiMomberg is not harsh, but a great example has been set.
— Pearl Modiadie (@PearlModiadie) March 28, 2018
Momberg was found guilty on all four counts of crimen injuria for her racist rant against the Black officer. Her lawyer, Kevin Lawlor, said she will seek the right to appeal her sentence.
More than two decades after the end of apartheid, this latest incident proves South Africa is still struggling to mend a deep racial divide.
Momberg’s sentence comes just months after two white farmers were sentenced to jail for attempted murder after they were filmed forcing a Black man into a coffin and threatening his life. Back in 2016, a white woman was ordered to pay nearly $10,000 after referring to Black people as “monkeys” in a Facebook post.