Convicted racist Vicky Momberg was sentenced to two years imprisonment and one year suspended sentence at the Randburg Magistrate's Court. Picture: Nhlanhla Phillips/African News Agency/ANA
South Africans generally have a morbid fascination about the race issue - thanks to our sordid history of enforced segregation under apartheid. For some, that obsession is accompanied by a guilt complex.

All of which explains why the Vicki Momberg case has become a cause célèbre in our country.

Now that the courts have dismissed her application for leave to appeal against her sentence for her racist attack on a black policeman, she could be sharing a prison cell with hardened criminals for the next two years.

Also read: Black businessmen in landmark court case over k-word

The prison sentence means the bar has now been set for serious offences involving racial abuse and hatred. Not everyone agrees. While some say Momberg got what she deserved, others say she was lucky to get off so lightly. There are even others who contend the sentence reflects a sledgehammer approach that’s disproportionate to the crime.

The mixed reaction is probably symptomatic of the divisions apartheid has spawned. Now that a legal precedent has been set, it will be intriguing to see how our courts deal with future cases involving racial offences.

For instance, how are the courts going to deal with cases involving high-profile personalities and politicians who play the race card so often with highly inflammatory public statements?

What about those mischievous elements who persist in fostering racial animosities against minority communities? Punishing offenders, however, is only part of the solution. What about the need to rehabilitate them so that they don’t re-offend?

Each case has to be judged on its merits. Take the case of a Limpopo doctor who was found to have separated patients in his practice according to race and apparently billed his black patients more than whites for the same medical services.

The SA Human Rights Commission instructed him to make a public apology, do community service and participate in anti-racism workshops. He also had to provide 48 hours of free service at a facility serving a disadvantaged community and cover the cost of one counselling session for each member of his staff adversely affected by the segregation at his practice.

He has agreed and, I hope, they will all live happily ever after.

[email protected]

* The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.