It is sad when a party loses talented people. It is sadder when one has worked for decades to build a party to see it teetering on the brink of a major setback.
Vicki Momberg appears in the Randburg Magistrate's Court to apply for leave to appeal her jail sentence. She was found guilty on four counts of crimen injuria after uttering racial slurs at police officers in Johannesburg. (Photo: Iavan Pijoos)
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I was nine years old the first time
someone called me a k****r. He walked right up to me, spat at my feet and blurted
it in my face. My worth discarded with a single word, the message was clear.
Some 13 years later as a young reporter,
I covered the case of a black Old Mutual employee, Xolile Finca, who had taken
the company and his white, Afrikaans colleague, Jenny Burger to the Labour Court
over a racial slur.
The grievance? Burger, upon seeing the
company's new floor plan for an open plan office, was overheard by another
employee asking the head of department, "Why are you putting me next to
the k*****s?" Burger had been referencing two black employees – of which
Finca, represented by the SA Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) – was
While the matter was initially taken up with
Old Mutual, the company was also taken to court for its failure to deal with it
effectively. When it was raised with the head of department Barbara van Zyl, employee
Zorina Jeffreys, who had overheard the conversation, was told, according to
court papers, not to be "overly concerned" by the remark. When
Afrikaans people used the word, it was "not necessarily in a derogatory
sense", Van Zyl allegedly told her. Burger was eventually given a verbal
warning following an informal disciplinary hearing.
While the trial went back and forth
between the he-saids and she-saids, it only really came to a head when union
representative, Susani Tomsana, who had worked at the company for ten years, told
the court the weight of what it meant to be called a k****r.
Sitting in the witness stand, he
addressed Judge Elna Revelas in a soft but clear voice.
"My lady," he said. "There
are people who have died (for the right) not to be called k*****s. There are
people who have been hanged in our courts (for the right) not to be called k*****s."
There was silence in the courtroom
before there wasn't.
People sobbed in the public gallery,
others left the court room, hunched over, wailing outside in the corridors.
We all sat and stared at Judge Revelas,
while the sobs echoed outside.
A year later in 2006, in what was a
precedent-setting judgment on racism in the workplace, Old Mutual was found
guilty of racism and was ordered to pay compensation and costs, with an
instruction that Burger be dealt with "in a firm manner".
In her 20-page judgment, Judge Revelas
said, "At the heart of this matter lies a view, shared by far too many
people, that the word 'k****r' is not as hurtful as some others (Africans in
particular) would have it."
Almost two weeks to the day, in another
precedent-setting case, former real estate agent Vicki Momberg was convicted
and sentenced to an effective two years imprisonment for her racist rant
against a police officer. She had called him a k****r almost 50 times.
It was a historic judgment for many
reasons, but especially for that nine-year-old, who like so many other South
Africans, was yet to find justice.
- Kassiem is news editor at News24.
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