The ‘qual­ity of mercy ...’

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS -

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.

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