The ‘quality of mercy ...’
RETIRED real estate agent Penny Sparrow’s conviction by the Equality Court for hate speech last year was an important ruling that conveyed a strong message that racism will not be tolerated in our society.
The ruling was also a reminder to those with the urge to project their perceived racial superiority that such offences will have dire financial consequences.
Last week Sparrow went to the Scottburgh Magistrate’s Court to ask that she be allowed to pay her fine of R150 000 over two years. She had been ordered to pay the amount to the Oliver and Adelaide Tambo Foundation.
Magistrate Irfaan Khallil ruled that payment be deferred to a period of two years, instead of the initial 60 days, without accruing interest.
In a Facebook post, Sparrow had referred to black beach-goers as “monkeys”. The post went viral and led to a public outcry about racism.
As an unemployed person, Sparrow was always going to struggle to keep up with the payments, and we would like to commend the magistrate for acceding to her request.
This is not to say that people who have been found guilty of hate speech should get a slap on the wrist and be allowed to get away with their racist tendencies.
As The Star, we are on record as having described Sparrow’s racist post as “abhorrent” and called for tough sanctions against her. However, we cannot deny the fact that she is currently in a dire financial situation.
There is no doubt that Sparrow’s post was wrong and that she deserves the punishment meted out to her.
However, South Africa has a history of being a forgiving nation.
If our late former president Nelson Mandela could forgive those who imprisoned him for 27 years, who are we to hold revenge against a helpless and elderly Sparrow?
We believe that Sparrow has learnt her lesson and is ready to use her life to contribute meaningfully to society. The reaction that greeted her racist post, the Equality Court case and the sentence imposed have caused a lot of emotional stress to her and those closest to her.
The primary objective is to change the perceptions of individuals like Sparrow and not to condemn them for eternity.