‘It was absolutely bloody stupid of me’, says Sparrow

2016-01-05 10:30
Penny Sparrow. Photo from Facebook

Penny Sparrow. Photo from Facebook

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Pietermaritzburg - While Penny Sparrow insists that her Facebook post comparing black people to monkeys was taken “out of context” to such an extent that it was “laughable”, her daughter has distanced herself from her mom, saying the family was “horrified”.

Speaking to The Witness after her comments sparked a furore online, Sparrow said she “likes black people” and “understands them”, and her “monkey” post was an “absolute mistake”.

However, just hours after telling The Witness that she was repentant for her actions, the 68-year-old grandmother from the South Coast told News24 that she was merely “stating the facts” and that while the large crowds of people on the beach looked like monkeys “dropping things everywhere”, she did not mind if they made “love in the bushes” as long as they did not litter.

Sparrow’s Facebook message, posted on January 2, has been slammed across the country as racist. She said “from now on” she will “address the blacks of South Africa as monkeys”.

Her rant was apparently triggered by her disgust over the litter left on the beaches after the 2016 New Year’s Day celebrations.

It has spurned condemnation from across the political divide. The DA, of which Sparrow is a registered member, said yesterday it would rescind her membership.

“It was an absolute mistake. I didn’t mean to hurt anybody or to be racist. In fact I am very good and kind to black people and help those in need. I was born in East Africa and I grew up with them. My first language was a black language. Swahili. My post wasn’t a personal threat against anybody. It was just a comment on the state of the beaches and town.

“It is like a laughable matter as it has been taken so out of context and so bad and ridiculous (sic). I can’t get onto my phone because of the threatening messages, death threats, plenty of hate, to the extent that one said my family will watch me be murdered — all written in messages.”

She said she had “no anger whatsoever” towards black people.

“Black people don’t worry me. I have been brought up with them. I have always got on well with them. They are lovely people.”

Asked why she chose the word ‘monkey’, she said: “Which other animal makes a mess? Monkeys litter all over the place. It was absolutely bloody stupid of me.”

The pensioner said she would make herself available to any inquiry by the Human Rights Commission if necessary.

“It wasn’t done intentionally. I haven’t done this to be nasty. I get on with everyone. I have been in sales all my life. I have worked with an Indian girl and I got on with her,” said Sparrow, adding she hoped the matter “blows over”.

“I have been living in South Africa since I was 13 and now I am a pensioner. I love the country; I understand the black people. I don’t know which way to go. I don’t know what to do."

The South African Human Rights Commission yesterday said they had noted “with serious concern the alleged racist comments attributed to some people on social media”.

“The posts went viral sparking outrage in most South Africans who are committed to a country without discrimination and to overcoming the divisions entrenched by decades of inequality and oppression.

Isaac Mangena, Spokesperson for the Commission said they had launched an investigation into the comments, and this may lead to further legal steps. “Formal complaints about this matter could also be laid with the Kwazulu-Natal provincial office of the Commission.

“It is very concerning to the Commission that 22 years into democracy there are still comments and actions that incite and promote racism. These utterances have gone viral and angered many. They open the wounds of millions who were formerly oppressed by the apartheid government,” said Mangena.

“The Commission recognises however, that comments of this nature do not represent the views of the majority of South Africans who are doing their part to build a democratic and equal society. We encourage those who feel aggrieved to lodge a formal complaint with us.”

A former sales agent for South Coast newspapers, Sparrow later become an estate agent. She said she left Jawitz Properties in October.

Her daughter, Charmaine Cowie, said she had no idea of her mum’s post until yesterday morning when she received a “strange phonecall”.

“A man, who said he was phoning from the USA, said people are on their way to Park Rynie and coming for us. That set off the alarm bells. I am feeling very worried,” she said. A statement Cowie sent to The Witness reads: “My immediate family and I are horrified by the views expressed by Penny Sparrow. These are not the views of myself, my family, or my company and we request that you address all queries to Penny Sparrow.”

The SA Human Rights Commission has launched an investigation into postings by Sparrow and by Standard Bank economist Chris Hart.

JAWITZ Properties CEO Herschel Jawitz said while Sparrow had left the company two months ago, her online profile still associated her with their brand. “She is an ex-employee and unfortunately she hadn’t updated her Facebook page that still reflects her as employed by Jawitz Properties,” he said.

“The most important fact is that these comments are outrageous in any context and to be made publicly is unacceptable. “

Unfortunately we have been associated with her and our brand is taking the heat and they [her comments] are not in any manner or form what we stand for or what we believe in. They would not be tolerated in our company and we are a proudly South African [company]. The public anger is justified,” Jawitz added.

Avanti Low, who owns the Jawitz franchise on the South Coast, said Sparrow’s actions had led to threats against her family. “She has caused me a nightmare.

“I have taken years to build up this brand in this region and something like this, to which we aren’t even associated, has caused bad reputational damage.

“My company and I would never tolerate such an attitude or racism such as this,” said Low.

Brandon Pillay, ANC councillor in Chats­worth and local ANC councillor Rachel Soobiah yesterday opened criminal cases of crimen injuria against Sparrow.

SOCIAL media lawyer Emma Sadleir said Sparrow had destroyed her reputation and that of her former employer, Jawitz Properties.

“When the relationship is over, it changes things and companies need to start waking up to the potential for harm from ex-employees.

“We have got to the stage that when someone leaves employment, you need to get them to sign a document that says they have cleared all associations with the company on social media.”

Sadleir said if offensive comments were aimed at one person, they could register a case of crimen injuria.

It was more problematic when the comments were general. — News24.

eTHEKWINI spokesperson Tozi Mthethwa said in a statement yesterday that Durban’s beaches were packed to capacity over the weekend as families and friends enjoyed the long weekend on the surf.

“Needless to say, lifeguards, law enforcement officers and other officials were kept busy trying to offer assistance where it was required and ensuring that the crowd remained under control.

“One of the challenges experienced was people who refused to stop bathing in the sea and swimming pools at night, which posed a great danger to their safety.

“Metro Police officers and other law enforcement agencies had to intervene to prevent drownings.”

Mthethwa said more than 505 000 people visited the various beaches during the long weekend, of whom more than 4 600 people were treated for various ailments. She said 242 rescues were carried out, while a 14-year-old boy drowned at Dakota Beach and a 53-year-old East London man drowned at La Mercy River. “Approximately 32 613 armbands were issued to children and 693 children were separated from their guardians or parents. All children have been reunited with their families.”

She said an estimated 97 000 tons of refuse were collected over the long weekend.

Festive Season Management Committee chairperson Sibusiso Mkhwanazi said law enforcement was tightened at the beachfront to ensure that people were able to enjoy themselves in safety. He added that beaches had been packed to the extent that road closures had to be implemented early to avoid traffic congestion. — WR.

PENNY Sparrow was not the only person in hot water over a Facebook post.

Pietermaritzburg businessman Fahim Essack ranted that the “dirty dogs...mess up the beachfront” and make a noise all night.

He advised the revellers to “get a life in the bush” and called on President Jacob Zuma to provide free education so they could learn “health tips”.

Contacted by The Witness, he said his comment was not racist.

“I was staying on the beachfront. People were sleeping on the beach for three or four nights, singing and banging objects throughout the night.

“There was no respect for others. I called the police several times but nothing was ever done,” he said.

A certain Louis Jordaan posted a photo of a packed Margate beach and complained about all the “White liberals” who had voted “Yes” in the referendum pre-1994 to give black people the vote.

Calling them barbarians, he said the black population only murdered and plundered. Jordaan could not be reached for comment.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  penny sparrow

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