Momberg jailed for her words ... and then her lack of them
If she'd shown remorse for her racist rant, she would have probably been spared prison
When Vicki Momberg goes to sleep tonight, behind the bars of a Johannesburg prison, the former estate agent will leave her own indelible mark on South African history.
The 49-year-old will become the first person in the country’s history to be jailed for crimen injuria, defined as a “wilful injury to someone’s dignity, caused by the use of obscene or racially offensive language or gestures”.
The Randburg Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday sentenced her to three years in prison‚ one of which was suspended for three years on condition that she is not convicted of the same offence.Prosecutions boss Shaun Abrahams told Times Select that Momberg’s effective two-year jail term is a “victory”.“This is a victory for the rule of law and sends a strong message to every citizen to treat every other person with dignity, and not to discriminate on the basis of race.“This foreshadows the significance and necessity of the need for the hate speech bill (currently before parliament).
“It is also clear that we have a long way to go as a people to advance the values and ethos of our young democracy and to promote constitutional values.”Twenty-four years into South Africa's democracy, Momberg’s conviction and effective prison term has been welcomed, maligned and ominously misinterpreted.What needs to be understood, though, is that Momberg’s reaction to the four crimen injuria charges bought against her – after she was filmed and recorded using the k-word 48 times after a smash-and-grab incident in 2016 – was what enabled prosecutor Yusuf Baba to argue that she should get prison time.Crimen injuria cases more often than not end in fines, community service and – at worst – a suspended sentence.
Key to avoiding harsh punishment in such cases is a genuine display of remorse, and at least the appearance that the accused has understood and is sorry for the hurt caused by his or words.
Momberg, however, seemingly did everything she could to avoid the impression that she was even remotely sorry for what she had said.In arguing for Momberg to get prison time, Baba quoted her reaction to his question about whether she had showed any remorse for her conduct.
“Anyone can determine remorse differently,” she said, “I know how I feel and I know how much it has affected my life. I know what impact it has had on other peoples’ lives. I know what drama it has caused for a lot of people. I know what shame it has brought on my own family, my own friends, my colleagues. I understand the impact of what everything has had.”Baba continued that – in light of this response and Momberg’s conduct throughout the case – the state believed she had not shown any real remorse.
She had pleaded not guilty to the charges against her on the basis that she suffered from “situational anxiety” and had suffered from “sane automatism”.
She later suggested that she was being victimised because she was white.
In the recordings made of Momberg after she was smash-and-grabbed two years ago, she verbally attacked officer David Clement Mkhondo, as well as a black 10111 phone operator – who she refused to talk to because she was black.Mkhondo and two colleagues had driven into the parking lot of a shopping centre in northern Johannesburg after Momberg flashed her car lights at them.
When Mkhondo got out of the patrol car and attempted to assist Momberg, she pointed at him and called him a “useless k*****”. Mkhondo had not said a word to Momberg.
She was also recorded admonishing the calibre of “k*****s” in Johannesburg.Momberg claimed she was genuinely sorry for what she had said, but when she was interviewed by a black probation officer meant to testify in her defence, she used such “undermining” language that the young woman asked to be taken off the case.
“I cannot put the words on the experience I had. I later told my supervisor I cannot continue with the investigation‚” probation officer Takalani Sekoba testified. She added that Momberg made her feel “inferior, intimidated and degraded”.
Sekoba said she tried to interview Momberg in January, following her conviction for crimen injuria.But Momberg said Sekoba would not understand because she was black and Momberg was white. Momberg also argued that the k-word is not offensive “unless they (black people) feel or believe they are what they are being called”.
Momberg’s lawyer has already indicated that she will seek leave to appeal her sentence. That application is expected to take place on Wednesday. She was denied bail pending the outcome of her application for leave to appeal and went straight to prison.Meanwhile, the South African Police Service has welcomed the sentence imposed on Momberg, with spokesperson Vish Naidoo saying the SAPS hoped it would send a “strong message”.
“Our members are constantly subjected to abuse, racial and otherwise, and we hope this sentence will serve as a deterrent.
“Hopefully, moving forward, officers who are just trying to do their jobs and putting their lives on the line will be treated with respect.”
Prosecutor Baba said following the sentencing: “People need to watch their tongues before they talk. There are consequences for your actions.”