Guest Column

Vicki Momberg jail sentence may be applauded... for now

2018-03-29 09:45
Vicki Momberg on her way to the holding cells in the Randburg Magistrate's Court. Foto: Murray Louw/Netwerk24

Vicki Momberg on her way to the holding cells in the Randburg Magistrate's Court. Foto: Murray Louw/Netwerk24 (Murray Louw)

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Kenneth Lukuko

Some of the comments from fellow South Africans on the Vicki Momberg judgment suggest that what she did was not simply an isolated act out of unfortunate rage, but rather, it is underpinned by attitudes that remain largely hidden and which are shared by many white South Africans.

Indeed, being a victim of crime and to constantly live in fear thereafter, should not lead to the reinforcement of racial stereotypes and, certainly, does not justify the violence that comes with using racist slurs.

Survey findings from the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR)'s annual attitudes report, the South African Reconciliation Barometer (SARB), present a number of statistics that seem to have a bearing on some of the circumstances surrounding the Momberg incident.

Firstly, there seems to be a directly proportional relationship between one’s opportunity to interact with people from a different racial background and one’s class or income bracket. In South Africa, race is still a reliable marker of economic class. This means that there are severe limitations for one who is white and likely more affluent to have a shared lived experience or understanding of our reality with a black, and likely poorer, person.

Secondly, the survey presents statistics that show that South Africans are less likely to have an honest and successful conversation about race when they are engaging with people that they are not familiar with, or close to socially.

With apartheid spatial planning still an undeniable reality, our closest socialisation networks would likely limit our shared views about South Africa to racialised views. With apartheid having been made history just less than 25 years ago, the generations that were socialised into adulthood under a system ordered around white supremacy, form the bulk of the adult population in the white, as well as black, communities.

In post-apartheid South Africa, what exists in the form of opportunities for these racialised worldviews to be challenged, rehabilitated and replaced?

Numerous research publications on the socio-economic, political and racial experiences of citizens suggest that although race may slowly be replaced by class as the key marker of lived experience, our experiences will still be interpreted racially. That is to say a person may experience economic marginalisation or even crime but then see their race as the reason they've been subjected to that experience. That is obviously a result of the centrality of race in our history in the construction of our entire social structure.

If the racialised narrative about our history is not fully or properly addressed, but rather reinforced, in the racial stereotypes in our media, which in turn shape much of our party-political blame game, the cancer of racism will likely remain with us for some generations to come.

In our work on the National Action Plan to Combat Racism and other related Intolerances, civil society partners have had the opportunity to engage in the conversation about effective punishment for racist hate crimes.

The punishment meted out to Momberg, similar to earlier cases with other perpetrators of racist hate crimes, may be applauded for now. Nevertheless, it is not likely to be part of a more effective set of measures that will deter others or eradicate racist attitudes in the long term. It may serve to deter against the actions but not necessarily the attitudes. Attitudes need much more sustained action. 

Civil society organisations took a more decisive step, in addition to contributing to the above National Action Plan, to form a network for collaboration with their social dialogue activities across the length and breadth of the country in order to more effectively deal with this.

Many social dialogue facilitators have continued to lament the fact that since the end of apartheid, quite a large section amongst our white fellow citizens have been missing from the nation-building dialogue programme. Talking about the past seems to be viewed, by our white fellow citizens, as a space where one’s culpability in the evil system of apartheid will be put to question.

What dialogue aims to do, however is quite different. It is an opportunity for all of us to face the evil of our past and build a common understanding that can then enable all of us to build a country that is very different to the apartheid past.

- Kenneth Lukuko is the Senior Project Leader at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    vicki momberg  |  racism  |  apartheid
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