South African race storm over Facebook slur

Thursday January 7 2016

Deputy President of South Africa and ruling party African National Congress (ANC) Cyril Ramaphosa (right), laughs with Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe during the opening session of the ANC 4th National General Council on October 9, 2015 at Gallagher Estate in Midrand. ANC launched legal action over a white realtor’s Facebook comments that compared black beachgoers in Durban to monkeys. PHOTO | GIANLUIGI GUERCIA | AFP

Deputy President of South Africa and ruling party African National Congress (ANC) Cyril Ramaphosa (right), laughs with Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe during the opening session of the ANC 4th National General Council on October 9, 2015 at Gallagher Estate in Midrand. ANC launched legal action over a white realtor’s Facebook comments that compared black beachgoers in Durban to monkeys. PHOTO | GIANLUIGI GUERCIA | AFP  

By AFP
More by this Author

JOHANNESBURG

South Africa’s ruling ANC party on Wednesday launched legal action over a white realtor’s Facebook comments that compared black beachgoers in Durban to monkeys in a growing row about post-apartheid racism.

The African National Congress, which led the struggle against white-minority rule, said it was pursuing a case against Penny Sparrow and a recent spate of other allegedly racist online postings.

The Durban beaches were reserved for the white people during the apartheid era that ended in the early 1990s.

Ms Sparrow’s comments sparked a storm of protest and renewed debate about racism among white people in the country 22 years since Nelson Mandela came to power vowing national reconciliation.

The ANC said in a statement that it was laying “charges of crimen injuria (intentionally impairing the dignity of others) against a number of South Africans who have made racist remarks on a number of social media.”

Ms Sparrow, a real estate agent from Park Rynie in the southern province of KwaZulu-Natal, complained on Facebook about black people littering beaches during New Year’s celebrations.

“From now I shall address the blacks of South Africa as monkeys as I see the cute little wild monkeys do the same — pick and drop litter,” she said in the posting on Saturday.

LODGE A COMPLAINT

The ANC said it would also lodge a complaint with the South African Human Rights Commission because such comments “belittled” and “insulted” black South Africans.

“It is troubling that bigots who once kept their views to themselves now seem emboldened,” party spokesman Zizi Kodwa said.

Ms Sparrow later deleted the post and apologised, saying she did not “mean it to be a personal insult to anyone”.

Several other white South Africans have also been subject to fierce criticism over tweets with allegedly racial connotations.

Prominent economic analyst Chris Hart was suspended by Standard Bank for what it said were “racist undertones” in a tweet suggesting there was a a growing “hatred towards minorities”, seen as referring to the treatment of whites.

The furore has highlighted racial divisions and sensitivities in South Africa, which faces a dire economic outlook as growth slows sharply and mass unemployment persists.

RACE RELATIONS

A survey in December by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation concluded that most South Africans felt “race relations have either stayed the same or deteriorated” since the first democratic elections in 1994.

The main opposition Democratic Alliance party, of which Sparrow is a member, stressed it abhorred racism and laid criminal charges against her for “dehumanising black South Africans”.

Meanwhile, also charged is fitness enthusiast Justin Van Vuuren.

Mr Van Vuuren who posted on Facebook: “These (blacks) are destroying the beach! Go back... to where you came from and take your 13 kids with you... I recommend we make our promenade private! It shouldn’t be enjoyed by the scum of the nation!”

Ms Sparrow has been suspended by the DA as a party member, and Mr Hart by the Standard Bank, his employer.

The Standard Bank distanced itself from comments made by Mr Hart, saying the comments made by him are factually incorrect and have racist undertones.

The ANC said it considers the SAHRC and the courts the appropriate means to seek redress on behalf of the millions of South Africans who have been prejudiced, belittled and insulted by these commentators, the party said.

Given the reach of social media, the circulation of such bigoted comments have the potential for causing irreparable harm to the dignity and reputations of individuals and social groups, ANC national spokesperson Kodwa said earlier.