A White South African woman is facing possible jail time and a hefty fine after getting caught on tape hurling a racial slur against Black police officers who came to her rescue after thieves broke into her car earlier this year, according to the New York Times (NYT). During the racially charged tirade, Vicki Momberg referred to Black people as“useless” and hurled the most offensive word in post-Apartheid South Africa at the officers, “Kaffir.”
The word is akin to the N-word in America and was historically used by Whites to disparage Blacks. The NYT reports that the term is considered so offensive that it is rarely said out loud or rendered fully in print.
The incident has reignited racial tensions in the country, prompting lawmakers to push for the criminalization of hate speech.
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Officials are pushing for hate speech to be punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
“The recent racist utterances and many other incidents of vicious crimes perpetrated under the influence of racial hate, despite our efforts over the past two decades to build our new nation on these values, has necessitated further measures,” Justice Michael Masutha said at a press conference on Monday.
The video has sparked outrage on social media, with many South Africans calling for her arrest and prosecution.
For our society to thrive. We must not have space for racists like Vicki Momberg and ilk. Sign here if you agree: https://t.co/9belPOXkEo
— Amandla! (@AmandlaMobi) September 7, 2016
#vickimomberg. How far do women influence their young? Are white mothers nurturing racism in SA’s white children?
— Johannesburg Today (@jhb_today) August 1, 2016
What should Vicki Momberg’s punishment be for making racist remarks to police? #SmashAndGrabPoll
a) A massive fine
b) A lunch with Zulaikha
— #Namanje (@Yfm) September 6, 2016
Freedom of Speech versus Racism
While the racial rant by Momberg may have rubbed many South Africans the wrong way, not everyone supports the government’s bid to criminalize hate speech.
Some critics of the proposed law say it is likely to have a negative effect on freedom of speech, adding that it could distract authorities from real issues, such as the economic disparities that exist between Blacks and Whites in the country.
The new law would define hate speech as direct or electronic communication that advocates hatred, incites violence, or causes contempt or ridicule.
“Race and racism should be understood as structural problems, problems of inequality, to be resolved through a program of justice and not criminalization,” Joel Modiri, a law professor at the University of Pretoria said.
Racism in South Africa
Since colonial times, the oppressive system of racial segregation has been one of the most divisive problems that South African’s have grappled with. Under Apartheid, the rights, associations, and movements of the country’s Black citizens were suppressed in an attempt to maintain White minority rule.
Even though Apartheid was abolished in 1994, racism in South Africa has persisted to this day, with the Black majority continuing to campaign against what they term as “White privilege” in the post-apartheid era.