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This Woman Just Became The First Person To Go To Prison For Racism In South Africa

The woman, the first to be sentenced under South African laws criminalizing racist language, called two police officers “kaffirs,” a highly offensive term for black South Africans.

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NAIROBI — For the first time in South African history, a court on Wednesday sentenced a white woman to prison for making racist comments, a judgment that has given some hope that charges of racism will be treated more seriously.

Vicki Momberg was sentenced to up to three years in prison for an incident that took place in Johannesburg in February 2016, when she was filmed making derogatory comments toward the black police officers who had responded to her call of a reported robbery. She was convicted last November of four counts of “crimen injuria,” or the use of racially offensive language.

In the viral video, Momberg can be heard talking to someone on the phone about the police officers dispatched to the scene. She referred to them as “kaffirs,” an offensive and derogatory term for black South Africans that was used during apartheid, and which lawmakers have in recent years tried to criminalize along with other forms of hate speech.

View this video on YouTube

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“The kaffirs here in Joburg are terrible,” Momberg said. “I’m so sick of it. I really am.”

At one point, an officer approached her. While attempting to speak with Momberg, she yelled, “I don’t care. I do not like a single black in Joburg.”

Momberg then made comments about the difference between black South Africans in Johannesburg and Durban, claiming that the former group is “opinionated, they’re arrogant, and they’re just plain-and-simple useless.”

She went on to tell the officer, “I am happy for a white person to assist me, or a colored person, or an Indian person. I do not want a black person to assist me.”

The exchange continued for several minutes — and the clip broadcast on South African news station Eyewitness News appears to have been edited for time — and reached a peak when Momberg threatened to run black people over with her car and shoot them.

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

During her trial last year, state prosecutor Baba Yusuf told the court that Momberg, a real estate agent, had been charged with a similar crime in Durban in 2006. Though the case had been dismissed, in that incident she said at a police station that she only wanted to be assisted by white, colored, or Indian people, but not by black people, a comment that was nearly identical to the one she made in the 2016 video.

Momberg’s attorney attempted to use her psychological state — having just been robbed — to explain her behavior, and Momberg said in her testimony last November that she had been “intimidated” by the officers because the person who allegedly robbed her was black. But Pravina Raghoonandan, the magistrate who presided over the case, disagreed with them both in her ruling, stating that Momberg had shown no remorse for her actions.

South Africans on Twitter largely supported the sentencing, with many celebrating it as a step in the right direction to combat the deep-rooted racism in the country.

Vick Momberg you will the first person in Sa to be jailed for using k-word😂😂 #VickyMomberg

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It’s about time we as South Africans take racism seriously and punish those that are guilty. It is simple, we have no place for racism in SA. Today’s court ruling is a step in the right direction 🇿🇦 #VickyMomberg https://t.co/sZSj4h5zEa

Vicky Momberg has just been sentenced for 3 years imprisonment for racism!!!

Thank You South Africa. It’s about time racists go to jail for using the “K-Word”. Should’ve happened back in 94 already. Pray that they find peace one day... #VickyMomberg

Use the k-word and go straight to jail. Pass start, do not collect R200. 💋 #VickyMomberg

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Vicky Momberg sentenced, a lesson for us all who are white and want to continue behaving in a racist manner. No more excuses

South African Minister of Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa tweeted out that the sentence will "serve as a deterrent" to others.

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.

Some questioned whether court decisions were enough to effect change, while others suggested other forms of punishment.

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Courts are an ineffective way to address racism when inequality spawns it. The stone age geography of racism remains firmly intact and it breeds more racists. Even with this Vicky Momberg verdict, it won't be uprooted. Thanks to the court though for sending a strong message.

#VickyMomberg is a hateful racist. However jailing people for words, hurtful as these were, is a slippery slope. Racists should face consequences, but I think her paying damages to the cop she insulted & community service in a black community, would’ve been restorative justice. https://t.co/Rfji3k5V8i

Momberg was denied bail shortly after her sentencing. Her three-year sentence will have one year suspended from it on the condition that she not commit the crime again.

Tamerra Griffin is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based Nairobi, Kenya.

Contact Tamerra Griffin at tamerra.griffin@buzzfeed.com.

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