Winnie and Vicki: They both tell the South African story
The two women, in their very different ways, teach us what we must confront in our country, and how
Two women divided South Africa this week. The one went to prison for her unrelenting racism. The other went to the grave after a lifetime of fighting racism. Vicki and Winnie. Each would split public opinion right down the middle. In the process we would discover just how far apart we still are as citizens of this beautiful country.A chunk of white South Africa simply could not understand that a white person would go to prison for racism. Everyday racism is so entrenched in our society that being punished for it must have come as a shock to some. Afriforum, long devoid of any moral consciousness would, with childish predictably, cry foul – but what about the black racist? I suspect though that what sunk Vicki Momberg was not only her racism but her lack of remorse. I wonder if Vicki is a moron, in the old psychiatric sense of the word. Even if she meant what she uttered in those racist tirades, one would have expected some sense of self-interest; that to feign remorse could soften the sentence. That said, I doubt this unprecedented sentence will stand as the case is appealed in higher courts. I know for sure that the sentence will not act as a deterrent to racists. Two years of community service in a black police station might have given Vicki a much better chance of racial rehabilitation than locking her away in a cell. The truth is we will need a lot more prisons if every racist outburst comes before Vicki’s sentencing Magistrate Pravina Rugoonandan.Like many South Africans, I too had a moment of schadenfreude when Vicki’s sentence was meted out. For about five seconds. And then I realised that the sentence changes nothing. As a society we have come to believe that you can root out racism by dealing with individuals (throw them in prison) rather than the more demanding task of dealing with institutions. For example, what is it about estate agencies that delivers these nasty racists from Penny Sparrow on the coast to Vicki Momberg further inland? Talk to any black middle-class person and you would be overwhelmed by stories about the racist behaviour of estate agencies in the suburbs; I have a few stories of my own. They are the gatekeepers of residential segregation, said a progressive white friend on social media. This is an institution worth targeting for transformation — estate agencies — rather than dealing with every uncivilised agent who from time to time emerges from the shadows to shock us.
On the other side of the moral spectrum stands another woman, Winnie Mandela. Her death at 81 years brought back powerful memories of untold suffering. Her young husband was thrown in prison for almost three decades. She was tortured out her mind, spending 491 days in solitary confinement. I still remember those heartbreaking images of her young girls screaming and tugging on their mother as white policemen dragged her off to prison in the darkness of the night. Banished to a little Free State town by the white minority government, Winnie became a victim of a racist system determined to break her. When she died this Easter Monday those with a sense of history were forgiving of the mistakes she made and the wrong turns her life took. Would any one of us have emerged unscathed from decades of such relentless, personalised terror?
Those who defended Vicki hated Winnie and it showed in a torrent of abuse on social media against the memory of the deceased.“Ignorance is bliss,” said a young white woman in response to a didactic note I posted on Facebook about Winnie’s contribution to our freedom. Clearly education can still play a transformative role among young white students who have been brainwashed in their homes about Winnie the wicked witch rather than Winnie the struggle hero. The Vicki-lovers remain blissfully unaware of their part in the making and breaking of Winnie Mandela. Like Vicki, there is no remorse among these hardened white brothers and sisters. No amount of education will change them. Our hope lies in reaching their children before they too become like Vicki Momberg who unleashed her racial hatred against the very black policemen reaching out to help her after a 2016 smash-and-grab incident in North Riding, Johannesburg.
Winnie has sadly left us. Vicki will return to haunt us. Each woman was differently scared by our violent past. Vicki reminds us that the struggle for equality is not yet over. Winne inspires us to continue fighting that struggle. Together, Vicki and Winnie tell a much larger South African story.