NAIROBI — For the first time in South African history, a court on Wednesday sentenced a white woman to prison for making racist comments, a judgment that has given some hope that charges of racism will be treated more seriously.
Vicki Momberg was sentenced to up to three years in prison for an incident that took place in Johannesburg in February 2016, when she was filmed making derogatory comments toward the black police officers who had responded to her call of a reported robbery. She was convicted last November of four counts of “crimen injuria,” or the use of racially offensive language.
In the viral video, Momberg can be heard talking to someone on the phone about the police officers dispatched to the scene. She referred to them as “kaffirs,” an offensive and derogatory term for black South Africans that was used during apartheid, and which lawmakers have in recent years tried to criminalize along with other forms of hate speech.
“The kaffirs here in Joburg are terrible,” Momberg said. “I’m so sick of it. I really am.”
At one point, an officer approached her. While attempting to speak with Momberg, she yelled, “I don’t care. I do not like a single black in Joburg.”
Momberg then made comments about the difference between black South Africans in Johannesburg and Durban, claiming that the former group is “opinionated, they’re arrogant, and they’re just plain-and-simple useless.”
She went on to tell the officer, “I am happy for a white person to assist me, or a colored person, or an Indian person. I do not want a black person to assist me.”
The exchange continued for several minutes — and the clip broadcast on South African news station Eyewitness News appears to have been edited for time — and reached a peak when Momberg threatened to run black people over with her car and shoot them.
“If I see a kaffir, I will drive him over,” she said. “I have a gun — I will shoot everybody.”
During her trial last year, state prosecutor Baba Yusuf told the court that Momberg, a real estate agent, had been charged with a similar crime in Durban in 2006. Though the case had been dismissed, in that incident she said at a police station that she only wanted to be assisted by white, colored, or Indian people, but not by black people, a comment that was nearly identical to the one she made in the 2016 video.
Momberg’s attorney attempted to use her psychological state — having just been robbed — to explain her behavior, and Momberg said in her testimony last November that she had been “intimidated” by the officers because the person who allegedly robbed her was black. But Pravina Raghoonandan, the magistrate who presided over the case, disagreed with them both in her ruling, stating that Momberg had shown no remorse for her actions.
South Africans on Twitter largely supported the sentencing, with many celebrating it as a step in the right direction to combat the deep-rooted racism in the country.
South African Minister of Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa tweeted out that the sentence will "serve as a deterrent" to others.
Some questioned whether court decisions were enough to effect change, while others suggested other forms of punishment.
Momberg was denied bail shortly after her sentencing. Her three-year sentence will have one year suspended from it on the condition that she not commit the crime again.