The ultimate price of racism

Convicted racist Vicky Momberg was sentenced to three years in jail, one of which was suspended, by the Randburg Magistrates Court.

Vicki Momberg used the k-word 48 times when police and 10111 operators were attempting to assist her after a smash-and-grab incident in 2016. The evidence was irrefutable – a video that went viral.

The trial in the Randburg Magistrate’s Court dragged on for over a year, but finally, last Wednesday, magistrate Pravina Rugoonandan handed down the stiffest sentence yet for crimen injuria, an effective two years in jail, and an additional year suspended for three years. It is the first time that a custodial sentence has been handed down for this crime.

Even Penny Sparrow, who in a vile racist Facebook tirade, likened black people visiting Durban beaches on New Year’s Day 2016 to monkeys, was sentenced only to a hefty fine.

Ms Momberg’s sentence has been hailed as a landmark in the fight to impose deterrent punishment on the racists and bigots who still exist in our society.

Reactions have ranged from approval to condemnation, and inevitably Ms Momberg chose to appeal the sentence. Significantly, bail was denied, and Ms Momberg is currently languishing in jail as her legal counsel prepares to lodge an appeal.

The essence of Ms Momberg’s defence was based on sane automatism, which postulates that she was so traumatised by the smash-and-grab incident, that she was unaware of her subsequent actions and utterances. It failed.

In August 2011, radio DJ and sports presenter Darren Scott, employed a similar defence when he used the k-word during a weekend team building event against colleague, Africa Tshoaedi, to whom Mr Scott had loaned money on a number of occasions, which had allegedly not been repaid.

The altercation took place in a bar, and inevitably, when Mr Scott subsequently apologised for the use of the racial slur, he suggested that he had acted out of character because of provocation.

Mr Scott subsequently resigned over the incident.

These two miscreants are by no means the first, nor will they be the last to plead: “I didn’t mean it. I lost my temper. I was provoked. I was traumatised. I was drunk. I’m not a racist.”

On Monday February 4 1990, I sat with my aunt, Wendy, in the modest Woods family home in Surbiton, Kingston upon Thames.

We had last seen each other 13 years earlier, shortly before her husband, Donald, was banned for his overtly anti-apartheid stance as editor of The Daily Dispatch and his exposure of the truth behind the death in detention of Black Consciousness leader, Bantu Steven Biko. The family fled the country on New Year’s Eve 1978, and successfully sought asylum in England.

I had left Johannesburg on February 2 1990, the day FW De Klerk announced the unbanning of the ANC, SACP and PAC, and the release of all political prisoners.

The expansive changes that were now imminent, dominated our discussions that evening, and I put to Wendy a question that troubled me deeply about the future. “Wendy,” I asked, “what will happen to all of the white people in South Africa who are dyed-in-the-wool racists? This change won’t make them into non-racists.”

“No, it won’t,” said Wendy. “It will take generations to breed racism out of the white population, but in the meantime, they will learn to shut up and keep their racism to themselves.”

Twenty-eighty years later, we still have white people in our society who choose to speak to black people in the most deeply hurtful manner, and then attempt to excuse their behaviour on the grounds of provocation or trauma or intoxication or anger or any number of equally implausible reasons.

The cold hard fact is that if you utter such words in an unguarded moment, irrespective of the reason, you are unequivocally a racist.

That you do not do so in normal circumstances means, that as Wendy suggested all those years ago, you’ve simply learned to keep your mouth shut and your racism to yourself, but you remain a racist.

It has become fashionable to deploy the anti-white rhetoric of the likes of Julius Malema as some form of defence or mitigation in such circumstances, and AfriForum has already weighed in on the debate, comparing Ms Momberg’s sentence with the slap on the wrist dished out a few days earlier to a SANDF officer who had made anti-white remarks.

But here’s the thing: they are not the same, and chances are, they never will be. As distasteful and hurtful as anti-white rhetoric is, there is no pejorative equivalent to the k-word.

Part of the demographic dividend that white people have, is the tacit acceptance of the cushion conferred by the right of privilege, afforded us by 360-odd years of brutal subjugation of black people.

Black people, on the other hand, have to grapple with the enormous demographic deficit that resulted from those same 360 odd years of brutal subjugation, and every racist attack increases that demographic deficit, not just for the target of the attack, but for all black people.

Anti-white rhetoric will be dealt with, as it already has. Julius Malema ended up on the wrong side of an Equality Court ruling in 2011 over his singing of “shoot the boer”, and with the DA approaching the court once more over his utterances about “cutting the throat” of Nelson Mandela Bay mayor Athol Trollip, he’s on the ropes again.

Our social fabric is gossamer-thin and easily rent, and as we confront the stark realisation that we are a long way from being the Rainbow Nation of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and our beloved Madiba, it is up to all of us to acknowledge our fundamental humanity, no matter the colour of our skin, and to act upon it every single day.

If we don’t, we have no future.