Racism: Penny Sparrow fined R150K, community service for Theunissen


Penny Sparrow and Matthew Theunissen will pay for racist comments they made on social media – a R150 000 fine for Sparrow and community service for Theunissen.

The Umzinto Equality Court today ruled that controversial KwaZulu-Natal realtor Penny Sparrow must pay R150 000 to the Oliver and Adelaide Thambo for her racist comments, and Capetonian Matthew Theunissen will do community service for sports development in a disadvantaged part of Cape Town as part of a settlement agreement.

Magistrate Irfaan Khalil said Sparrow had to pay the amount within 60 days and he interdicted Sparrow from more hate speech.

Sparrow raised ire with a controversial Facebook post in which she likened black beach-goers to monkeys.

Khalil said in his judgment: “Her words convey the message both explicitly and implicitly to the reader that black people are not worthy of being described as human beings – implicit in this is that they have lowered or sub-human intelligence.”

The outrage Sparrow stirred up with the post prompted the ANC to approach the court in January. The ruling party said it wanted to find that her utterances were racist and constituted hate speech.

Sparrow’s daughter Charmaine Cowie told the court earlier today that her mother was “too sick” to appear for proceedings and feared for her life.

Last week the deputy sheriff had been unable to track her down to serve court documents.

“She’s sick with sugar diabetes. She is unable to come to court today because of the stress that this has caused. She tried to get legal counsel but no one will represent her,” Cowie said about her mother.

“I needed to come through today to make an apology and make a postponement so she can find out what she can do to apologise for the comments she made on Facebook. She can’t be present because she fears for her life.”

Denzil Potgieter, for the ANC, said that it was clear that Cowie was in contact with her mother, and decried the delay, saying that every method conceivable had been used to try and serve papers on Sparrow.

“She has done nothing to approach the court and indicate what her attitude is towards the matter. This is not the conduct of a reasonable person who seriously intends to do something about this matter,” he said.

“She [Cowie] says her mother wants to find a way to apologise, and that is one of the items sought in relief of this matter, that she [Sparrow] will never engage in this detestable conduct again.”

He said it appeared that there was nothing Sparrow wanted to add to the merits of the case.

“She [Cowie] says the respondent fears for her life, does this mean she will never come to court?” Potgieter asked.

“This is a serious matter and there is no basis to delay it any further. There is a considerable public interest in this matter and it is in the interest of justice and of the public that it is disposed of.”

Khalil ordered that the matter would proceed in the absence of Sparrow.

Theunissen, who vented on Facebook after the announcement that sport teams that failed to transform were banned from bidding for or hosting major events, will now do community service to come to grips with challenges in disadvantaged communities, the South African Human Rights Commission said today.

Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula announced on April 25 that he had banned the country’s cricket, rugby, netball and athletics bodies from bidding for, or hosting, major sporting events due to a lack of transformation. The decision would be reviewed next year.

“This experience is meant to sensitise Theunissen to the need for transformation and challenges facing poor disadvantaged communities in Cape Town,” said commission spokesperson Isaac Mangena.

The community service would be three to six months long.

He also agreed to stay off social media for a year and undergo anger management therapy.

Last month, Theunissen wrote on Facebook: “So no more sporting events for South Africa... I’ve never been more proud than to say our government are a bunch of KAFFIRS... yes I said it so go fuck yourselves you black fucking cunts.”

The post went viral and the commission conducted its own initiative investigation.

Realising the “outrage and hurt” he had caused, Theunissen responded immediately to the commission, Mangena told News24.

He gave them an additional statement and unconditional apology in response to the allegations.

The latest remedial conduct was agreed to and recorded in a conciliation meeting on Tuesday.

“Theunissen will also undertake research on anti-racism, diversity, transformation and tolerance in general, and specifically within the area of sport in order to achieve a greater understanding of transformation issues, and the hurt caused by his post.”

Theunissen was asked to explore, reflect and understand what hate speech and racism were and why hate speech was destructive to the transformation process.

He also had to look at “how white privilege functions in South African society”.

Mangena said Theunissen was doing all of this voluntarily and at his own cost.

The parties agreed he would no longer publish or communicate any discriminatory or hurtful language.

He would also refrain from activity on any social network for 12 months while undergoing rehabilitation.

He would report back to the commission after three months and submit himself to spot checks.

Mangena said the resolution of the matter was facilitated by Theunissen’s willingness to acknowledge his wrong doing, cooperate with them and engage in rehabilitative conduct.

“The mediation of disputes in this manner must be understood as more consistent with the principles of restorative justice, than with punitive retributive justice sanctions, which can be meted out by the criminal justice system.” – News24

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