Vicki Momberg: This was vengeance not justice

William Saunderson-Meyer says the sentence imposed in the case was irrationally excessive


Vicki Momberg this week carved herself a niche in history. It’s not a pretty one, though.

It’s a place in infamy. It’s the kind of thing which, to escape the shame, will tempt her offspring to consider changing their surnames or emigrating. 

Momberg has the unhappy distinction of being the first South African to be jailed for a character trait that a generation back was so publicly pervasive as to be unremarkable. For Momberg is a vile, bile-spewing racist.

That’s a form of swamp life found widely in South Africa. The political strain of the species – Hendrik Verwoerd, PW Botha, and that ilk – once had statues erected for them, but is now rarely on display in public. 

The common or garden-variety still swarms at braais and suburban dinner parties. They mostly manifest discreetly, their race-affirming bonding rituals carried out only among similarly inclined specimens. 

Momberg, unfortunately for her, made the mistake of speaking out loudly, clearly and repeatedly. After being a victim of a smash-and-grab, she went on a racist rant and hurled the K-word 48 times at the police officers and emergency operators who were trying to assist her. 

Faced with charges of crimen injuria for infringing on the dignity of a police complainant, the witless Vicki did little to help her own case. She wrangled incessantly with her lawyers about fees and court strategy, causing a number of resignations, including that of her pro bono lawyer who withdrew because she was so rude. 

Momberg was also nasty to the black social worker who had to compile a report in mitigation of sentence. But perhaps her biggest mistake was to insist on calling a former colleague as a character witness in her defence.

The man said it was bizarre that she had done so, since they had a terrible working relationship and she had numerous times accused him of defrauding her. He suspected her to be bipolar, had always known her to be racist, and described her as “an absolute lunatic … bad news … [and] a danger to society”.

He is wrong. Despite her unpleasant demeanour and racist nature, Momberg does not endanger anyone. She is offensive, but the only danger she poses is to herself.

The picture that has emerged is one of a seriously off-kilter person, a vitriolic woman unable to control her emotions or curb her tongue. Her blundering failure to issue craven public apologies after the incident, to accept the advice of her legal team, and to avoid antagonising the social workers that could help her, all are evidence of someone unable even to discern her own best interests, never mind act to achieve them.  

However hurtful her words, they are only words. They do not merit a three-year prison sentence, of which a year is suspended. It is an unheard-of sentence anywhere in the civilised world, but is especially outrageous in SA, where people are often sentenced to equivalent terms for far more serious offences, such as rape, bodily harm and culpable homicide. 

Former deputy minister of Higher Education, Mduduzi Manana, got a R100,000 fine or a year in jail, for assaulting three women. His bodyguards, who assisted in the assault, each got a R30,000 fine, or eight months jail. Grant Smith, a Cape Town businessman who tried to kill his business partner, got a four-year sentence and his female co-conspirator got two-years suspended.

Also, Momberg has already been punished. Her case was taken up with admirable vigour by the SA Human Rights Commission and in the Equality Court she was ordered to pay R100,000 in restitution to the police officer involved. 

If only the SAHRC would act so energetically in cases of black racism directed at coloured, Indians, and whites. Economic Freedom Front leader Julius Malema has more than once called for white genocide, albeit with a qualification – “not for now” – but has yet to see the inside of a courtroom.

That is only one of dozens of incidents of often violently threatening black racism that have not been prosecuted and never will be. Afriforum in the last year laid charges against 113 blacks who publicly incited rape‚ murder‚ assault and genocide against whites. “Up until now‚ no significant progress has been made with these cases‚” the group said.

Magistrate Pravina Raghoonandan’s sentence is so irrationally excessive and so likely to be diluted on appeal – Raghoonandan also, rather spitefully, refused Momberg bail until Wednesday, when her application for leave to appeal will be heard – that one must wonder whether it was made with an eye not on justice but public approval.

The sentence was hailed by the Justice minister as deterrent to hate speech. The Democratic Alliance, unable to resist boarding a populist bandwagon when it passes, joined the chorus of approval. And prosecutions boss Shaun Abrahams, the man who was dilatory for years about prosecuting a president on 783 charges of fraud, racketeering and corruption –  proclaimed it a “victory for the rule of law”. 

On the contrary, Shaun. The prosecution was politically motivated, the sentence wildly disproportionate to the crime. This was vengeance, not justice.