South Africans have expressed mixed reactions over a female member of parliament’s decision to punch a young man after an alleged racist incident.
The black South African MP, Phumzile van Damme, from the opposition Democratic Alliance, said she acted in self-defence after the man, who was white, swore at her at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront.
The man had intervened in an altercation between van Damme and a white woman at the V&A Waterfront, but the female lawmaker said the man eventually hurled racial abuse at her, telling her to get out and calling her “you black.” Even when she complained to security officers at V&A Waterfront, she claimed she was mishandled.
“We regret this incident, which we did not handle with the necessary objectivity, respect and empathy,” the V&A Waterfront said in an apology to the MP.
van Damme was, on the day of the incident, standing in a queue in the supermarket when a confrontation ensued between her and a woman.
“Then when I went out, she was standing there with her family in a threatening manner. And I went to her and said, ‘why are you looking at me in a threatening manner?’ Then she said, ‘it’s because you’re black’, van Damme said in a video on Twitter.
The young man, who was with the woman, subsequently threatened violence so van Damme said she was compelled to punch him in the head in self-defence.
“Management of V&A Waterfront if you’re going to allow racism and racists on your premises, please announce it to all. I will not stand for anyone’s racism towards me or anyone. And don’t send me some PR clichéd response either, ACTION,” the female MP tweeted after the incident.
She has so far accepted the apology from V&A Waterfront, one of the top tourist sites in the country. She has, however, threatened to file charges with the police.
This latest development comes days after a male MP in Kenya allegedly slapped a female colleague for not allocating money to his constituency. The issue was widely condemned, but in South Africa, mixed reactions have greeted van Damme’s case.
While some social media users are saddened over the incident, others are using it to score cheap political points, especially since she is a black woman from the opposition Democratic Alliance Party, which is said to be the electoral home of most white and coloured South Africans.
Racism is still embedded in South Africa, 25 years after white-minority rule ended, media reports show. The SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), in December 2018, announced that most of the complaints it had received were race-related.
According to TimesLIVE, a trends analysis report launched by the commission said most complaints it received during the 2016/2017 financial year were related to equality; health care, food, water and sanitation; social security, and arrested, detained and accused persons; labour relations; and just administrative action.
On equality-related rights violations, the majority of complaints were related to allegations of racial discrimination against black South Africans, the commission said.
It added that Gauteng had the most equality-related complaints, with 38% of recorded cases coming from the province – followed by the Western Cape at 15% and KwaZulu-Natal with 14%.
The SAHRC said most race-based complaints it litigated included the use of the k-word, as well as, other derogatory terms such as “baboon” and “monkey”. In March 2018, South Africa jailed a white woman for racial abuse, the first time ever someone had been jailed over that kind of incident, according to Quartz.
Vicky Momberg, a South African estate agent, was sentenced to three years in jail after she was caught on camera hurling the k-word at black police officers. The video went viral and Momberg was arrested.
Legal expert, Penelope Andrews, then told Quartz about the significance of the judgement.
“The significance of the judgment is substantive and symbolic. It’s substantive in that the crime committed by the accused is punished severely. Symbolically it sends a message that racism is not to be tolerated. In fact, one could go so far as to say that the law establishes that anyone using the “k” word publicly to abuse and humiliate will be severely punished.”