Penny Sparrow in the Scottburgh Magistrate's Court. Picture: Juan Venter

Durban - Former South Coast estate agent Penny Sparrow made a public apology in the Scottburgh Magistrate’s Court on Monday for racist Facebook comments she made in January this year.

Sparrow, 68, pleaded guilty to a charge of crimen injuria in terms of a plea and sentence agreement with the State.

Sparrow was ordered to pay a R5 000 fine or spend 12 months in prison.

She was also given a two-year prison sentence which was wholly suspended for five years on condition that she be not convicted of crimen injuria in the period of suspension.

Sparrow also needs to post an apology on Facebook.

While the director of public prosecutions was satisfied with the sentence, the ANC in the province said it felt it was too lenient and expressed disappointment about the ruling.

Sparrow, who became emotional when she read out her apology in court on Monday, said she was “very sorry”.

“It is difficult to put into words the regret I feel. I will from now on strive to be a better citizen, respecting others and working towards making our country a better place to live in, a place where we are accepting of each other, a place we can all call home,” she said.

She also said she accepted that she had “impaired the dignity of African people” by comparing them to “monkeys” in her Facebook post.

R1 000 of the fine was paid in court on Monday and the remainder must be paid in monthly instalments of R1 000.

Sparrow was charged criminally by the DA’s Herman Mashaba in January this year in connection with comments she made on Facebook.

In her post Sparrow had referred to black people as “monkeys”. The post went viral and led to a public outcry about racism.

She was taken to the Equality Court by the ANC and in June this year, magistrate Irfaan Khalil ruled that she had to pay R150 000 to the Oliver and Adelaide Tambo Trust for her post.

In that case Sparrow was also ordered to pay the legal fees of the ANC.

Magistrate Vincent Hlatswayo, in confirming the plea and sentence agreement, said he had taken into account Sparrow’s age, her poor state of health and that she was remorseful.

In a media statement, KZN Director of Public Prosecutions advocate Moipone Noko said she was pleased with the outcome of the case. “It is appropriate and relevant in addressing this offence. All aggrieved parties and South Africans at large will be appeased by the outcome.”

But the ANC in KZN and a senior advocate said they were disappointed with the sentence.

Mdumiseni Ntuli, the ANC’s provincial spokesman, said the party believed that the court had been “lenient” and that a jail term should have been imposed.

“In our view the court failed to take into account the impact of black people being called monkeys 20 years after democracy by a white person. We are not sure that the court applied its mind to the pain that the comment caused.”

Senior advocate Vuyani Ngalwana said while he did not know what reasoning the court had used in its judgment, he believed the sentence given to Sparrow did not send a “strong message” to society.

Ngalwana, who in a comment piece in June called for harsher sentences for hate speech, said: “I am not happy about it as I do not think it is line with the seriousness of the offence.”

On social media South Africans were outraged over Sparrow’s fine. Tweets and Facebook posts pointed to bemusement, with many seeing it a slap on the wrist.

“For just R5 000 you can call all other races whatever you wanna (sic) call them”, wrote Sibulele Mtwecu on Facebook.

Ayabulela Fuyizilo echoed him, posting “You (pay) only 5k to call black people monkeys. That’s the worth of a soul of a black child.”

“R5k fine is what I pay for my traffic fines”, tweeted @kaya1wp.

“There you have it, racists. With a simple R5k fine and an apology on FB you can keep dehuminising (sic) black folk. Racism is cheap”, wrote @PieterHowes.

On Facebook, France Deep SA wrote: “Wow South Africa, wow. So our dignity and identity is worth R 5 000...one messed up country we live in!”

Some questioned the justice system.

“She got 5k fine #PennySparrow He got a 6 year for murder #OscarPistorius and somewhere a coloured boy got 12 years for stealing an S4 (cellphone),” tweeted @jackzorro101.

“The South African justice system has failed yet again,” tweeted @Gomolemo_17.

“I think giving #PennySparrow a community service in a black neighbourhood would have been JUSTICE (sic) enough,” posted Andile Mbuyisa on Facebook.

The Mercury