White Woman Becomes South Africa's First Person Sent to Jail for Racism After Yelling Racial Slurs at Black Police Officers

For the first time in the country's history, a court in South Africa sentenced a white woman to prison for using racist language.

Vicki Momberg was sentenced on Wednesday to three years in jail for using racist slurs to describe black police officers who had arrived to help her following a robbery in 2016. The incident had been caught on film, and Momberg was convicted in November last year of four counts of "crimen injuria," or intentionally impairing the dignity of another person.

During the incident, Momberg told the police officers that she did not want to be assisted by a black person and she threatened to use physical violence. In the video that spread across social media, Momberg had referred to black people as "kaffirs," a derogatory term that was frequently used during South Africa's apartheid regime.

"If I see a kaffir, I will drive him over," she said. "I have a gun. I will shoot everybody."

Authorities in South Africa have defined the word as hate speech and made moves to criminalize its use. Momberg is now the first person to be convicted for its use.

Many South Africans celebrated the ruling as a sign that authorities are taking racism seriously. The Nelson Mandela Foundation released a statement saying that the ruling was "a clear message" that race-based abuse would not be tolerated.

"For too long, post-apartheid South Africa has pursued what we would call strategies of generosity in relation to such manifestations of racism. It must stop," the statement read.

We welcome the prison sentence handed down today on Real Estate Agent #VickyMomberg who has been sentenced to 3 years in prison for her racist rant, of which 1 year is suspended. This will serve as a deterrent & a clear indication that there is no room for racism in South Africa.

— Min. Nathi Mthethwa (@NathiMthethwaSA) March 28, 2018

But others have criticized the law against hate speech as insufficient for addressing the deep-seated racism pervasive in South Africa.

"Verbal and psychical punishment that characterize racial assaults and slurs are a way in which the perpetrator reinforces their sense of identity over their victims, whom they cast as inferior or deviant," South African law professor Joel Modiri wrote in 2016 when the government first proposed criminalizing the word "kaffir."

"It is therefore puzzling that the mooted solution to this problem as proposed by the ANC government is the criminalization of racist and other hate speech. If the history of racism is best understood historically as one of oppression rather than mere hate or aversion, why would the solution be to criminalize expressions of racism rather than to address, finally after 22 years, its root causes and endemic effects?" Modiri continued.