Two women tell SA story

Together, Momberg and Madikizela-Mandela tell a much larger South African story.

Two women divided South Africa this week. One of them went to prison for her unrelenting racism. The other went to the grave after a lifetime of fighting racism.

Vicki Momberg and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

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 predictability, cry foul – but what about the black racist?

I suspect, though, that what sunk Momberg was not only her racism, but her lack of remorse.

Everyday racism is so entrenched in our society that being punished for it must have come as a shock to some.

I wonder if she 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 police station in a black area might have given Momberg 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 Momberg’s sentencing magistrate, Pravina Rugoonandan.

Like many South Africans, I, too, had a moment of Schadenfreude when Momberg’s sentence was meted out. For about five seconds. And then I realised that the sentence changed 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 deliver these nasty racists from Penny Sparrow on the coast to 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 and I have a few stories of my own.

They were 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, Madikizela-Mandela.

Her death at 81 brought back powerful memories of untold suffering.

Her young husband was thrown into prison for almost three decades.

She was tortured out of 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, Madikizela-Mandela 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 Momberg hated Madikizela-Mandela 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 Madikizela-Mandela’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 Madikizela-Mandela the wicked witch rather than Madikizela-Mandela the struggle hero.

The Momberg lovers remain blissfully unaware of their part in the making and breaking of Madikizela-Mandela.

Like Momberg, 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 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. Madikizela-Mandela has sadly left us. Momberg will return to haunt us. Each woman was differently scarred by our violent past.

Momberg reminds us that the struggle for equality is not yet over.

Madikizela-Mandela inspires us to continue fighting that struggle.

Together, Momberg and Madikizela-Mandela tell a much larger South African story.