Racial slurs for Black South Africans don’t get worse than being called the “K-word.”
A South African court sentenced a White woman to prison on Wednesday who used the epithet—the first time in the country’s history that someone will serve time for racist comments.
Vicki Momberg, a real estate agent, will sit behind bars for up to three year because she was caught on video ranting about a Black police officer in February 2016, who had responded to her report of a robbery. In her long tirade, she referred to Black people as “kaffirs,” which South Africans refer to as the K-word.
The word has Arab roots, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. It was used in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in reference to Black people, but it had no racist meaning. However, during apartheid, the period of strict racial segregation and oppression of the Black majority, the word took on a whole different meaning. It’s the N-word of South Africa.
With the end of apartheid in 1991, the Black majority has taken political control of the country. However, Blacks are reminded that an apartheid mentality remains among many White people when they use the K-word.
“Here you have a Black-majority society that is essentially demanding protection from a White minority [by banning the K-word]. It’s revealing the deeper problem that you have a majority in this country that is fundamentally powerless,” Joel Modiri, a lecturer in jurisprudence at the University of Pretoria, told the New York Times.
Momberg was convicted of four counts of “crimen injuria,” or the use of racially offensive language. Black lawmakers have long sought to criminalize racist speech. Britain, Canada, France, Germany and other countries where hate speech is a crime, according to the Times.