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(BBC) – A former estate agent in South Africa has been jailed for racist abuse in what has been called a landmark ruling.
A court jailed Vicky Momberg for three years, with one year suspended, for using a derogatory word against a black police officer 48 times.
Her lawyer said she was not in a normal state at the time, as she had just been the victim of a smash-and-grab robbery.
Racism remains a major issue in South Africa, almost 24 years after white minority rule ended.
Momberg was convicted of four counts of crimen injuria after her racist rant was caught on video, and went viral on social media.
She hurled insults at black officers trying to assist her after she was robbed on the outskirts of the main city, Johannesburg, in 2016, and complained about the “calibre of blacks in Johannesburg compared to black people in Durban”, where she was based.
Handing down her ruling, magistrate Pravina Raghoonandan said some may think the sentence was harsh but it was intended to signal that racism will not be tolerated in South Africa.
Previous prosecutions had not prevented racist incidents, and therefore imposing a direct prison sentence without the option of a fine would send a strong message, she added.
Analysis: Shining a light on racism
Momberg is now a convicted racist. At one point in court, she said she could not recall using the highly offensive word, which was commonly used during the height of white minority rule to demean black people. But the video evidence sank her, and it shocked many South Africans.
She used the derogatory word 48 times in a rage-filled, vitriolic assault against black people – police officers – trying to help her.
South Africa has seen a spate of racist incidents in recent years. They have shone a light on the country’s painful history, and the fact that the nation is still divided.
It has led to calls for special legislation to deal with such cases, and for harsh sentences for racists.
Prosecutor Yusuf Baba said it was the worst case of crimen injuria, which refers to injuring someone’s dignity through racial insults, to appear before the courts in South Africa.
“This is a landmark ruling… It sets a precedent for other racial-related cases.” National Prosecuting Authority spokeswoman Phindi Mjonondwana said.
Momberg’s lawyers argued that she went into an “emotional storm” after the robbery, and should be sent for rehabilitation rather than to prison.
Her lawyer indicated that she would appeal against the conviction and sentence. If the appeal fails, she will be the first person to be imprisoned in South Africa for racist abuse.
The emergence of social media has brought numerous cases of racism in South Africa to light.
In October, two white farmers who forced a black man into a coffin, beat him up and threatened to burn him alive were sentenced to jail for more than 10 years each, after a video of the incident went viral.
In 2016, a court fined former estate agent Penny Sparrow 150,000 rand ($13,000; £9,000) for calling black people “monkeys” in a Facebook post.
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