Why did we attach such enormous importance to the commonplace racism of a commonplace woman who died last week?

Sparrow’s life and death were marked by silly tragedy. We raised her foolish remarks to heights of profound importance. We elevated her petty racism to diabolical sin. Why did we hang onto her every word as if it had been uttered by Satan? Why did we find her so massively interesting, important and evil?

I’m afraid I can think of only one answer: because she had a white skin. If she had had a black skin, there would have been little fuss. This convicts us of real racism. We care what whites say; we don’t care what blacks say. Whites are important; blacks are not. Black suffering doesn’t matter; white sin does matter.

Penny Sparrow died of cancer at age 70 on 25 July 2019. She was an estate agent in KZN. She became infamous on 1 Jan 2016 after her post on Facebook, giving her not very coherent thoughts after seeing some black people littering on a Durban beach. Here is an extract: ‘I do know some wonderful thoughtful black people. This lot of monkeys just don’t want to even try   …   (I) shall address the blacks of south Africa as monkeys as I see the cute little wild monkeys do the same pick drop and litter.’

(An aside. It interests me that we feel insulted to be compared with animals closely related to us but not with animals quite different from us. It is insulting to be compared with a monkey, an intelligent animal and fellow primate, but praise to be compared with a lion, a fairly stupid animal and not a primate at all. To be called an ‘ape’ is both an insult and an accurate classification: we are apes.)

I have heard bigoted remarks like Sparrow’s all my life, from all races and nations about other races and nations, including their own. We all have. In England, while two of us where waiting outside a telephone booth, a young white man on the phone inside was tearing pieces out of the directory and dropping them on the floor. The man next to me said: ‘He looks as if he has just escaped from the zoo.’ Some blacks do litter on the beaches but so do some whites. I haven’t seen the scientific data but I doubt very much if any race litters more than any other of the same economic group. Bigotry is not based on data, of course, but unfortunately it is widespread, even universal.

This did not stop Sparrow’s remarks causing uproar. She became ‘South Africa’s No 1 Racist’. Hysteria broke out and the nation worked itself up into what was called in the British Parliament ‘a lather of synthetic outrage’. At the time I wrote a newspaper column saying we should just laugh off Sparrow’s remarks and not take them so seriously. A black editor suggested I did not understand ‘the hurt, the pain’ she caused him. Pardon? We only feel hurt and pain from someone we regard as superior to ourselves. Is this editor pretending he thinks Penny Sparrow is superior to him?

The Equality Court found her guilty of hate speech and fined her R150 000 – later reduced. The Scottburgh Magistrates Court gave her a suspended two-year prison sentence. She had to make a tearful confession and recantation. She was bullied and vilified, and had to go into hiding. After her lonely death, comment was divided between ‘may this evil woman now rest in peace’ and ‘don’t ask me to feel any pity for this evil woman’. Oh, for goodness sake!

Now a terrible contrast. This also happened in KZN, also in 2016. In May, a young black man (name withheld) was drugged, and both his eyes were gouged out and both his testes were cut off. The police found the eyes and testes in the freezer of Xolani Mkhwanazi. He was convicted of the crime on 24 Aug 2017 in Ulundi Regional Court, and imprisoned.

This is the terrible thing: I read not one editorial, heard not one broadcast comment and saw not one condemnation from any politician or human rights organisation on the fact that a young black man had been deliberately blinded and castrated. Nothing. Nobody spoke about his ‘hurt and pain’. Black life obviously means nothing to all those self-righteous commentators and activists, black and white, who go on and on about white oppression. They care nothing for black suffering when the perpetrators are not white.

Let me confess my bias: I believe we should care about black suffering and black sin in exactly the same way as we care about white suffering and white sin. I dislike Sparrow’s Facebook racism but I condemn infinitely more the deliberate act that made a young man blind and sterile for the rest of his life. 


  1. Sparrow’s full Facebook post reads: ‘These monkeys that are allowed to be released on New Year’s eve and New Year’s day on to public beaches towns etc obviously have no education what so ever so to allow them loose is inviting huge dirt and troubles and discomfort to others. I’m sorry to say that I was amongst the revellers and all I saw were black on black skins what a shame. I do know some wonderful and thoughtful black people. This lot of monkeys just don’t want to even try. But they think they can voice opinions about statute and get their way dear oh dear. From now on I shall address the blacks of South Africa as monkeys as I see the cute little wild monkeys do the same, pick and drop litter.’ 
  2. Primates are a huge group including monkeys and apes. Baboons are monkeys. We are apes (usually without a tail and with flexible shoulders for swinging through the trees). There are three types of chimps: the Common Chimpanzee, Bonobo and Hominids. We are the only surviving hominid. We are the Third Chimpanzee. 
  3. My column was in the Citizen. The editor was Steve Motale, who subsequently became famous for saying what a lovely but wronged chap Jacob Zuma was. He did not mention me by name but obviously was referring to my column. I’m told he is very rich and drives an expensive European SUV. 
  4. Eyes gouged out, balls cut off: http://knowledgebylanes.co.za/man-sentence-for-attempted-murder-in-ulundi/

Man sentenced for attempted murder in Ulundi August 26, 2017

On 24 August 2017, Ulundi Regional Court convicted and sentenced Xolani Mkhwanazi (26) to 15 years imprisonment for attempted murder. The sentence emanates from the incident that occurred in May 2016 at Mama village, Mahlabathini.

A local resident was found by the community members dumped at a forest and was bleeding. He was crying for help and was in heavy pains. His eyes were gouged out and his private parts were amputated. He was taken to hospital for medical attention. The matter was reported to the police and investigation commenced.

Extensive investigation was conducted by the police that led to Mkhwanazi’s residence where private parts and eye balls were found in his freezer. He was immediately arrested, charged after he was positively linked to the victim’s ordeal. The accused was taken to court for prosecution where he was successfully convicted for the crime he committed.

The KwaZulu-Natal Acting Provincial Commissioner, Major General Bheki Langa commended the investigators for their extensive investigation that led to a conviction of the accused at court. “The accused’s heinous act is punishable, shows that he is inhumane and deserves to be prosecuted and sent to prison. The sentence follows after five people were arrested at Estcourt area and charged for murder, conspiracy to murder and possession of human parts. We hope that these alleged suspects will be prosecuted and received a heavy sentence that they deserve,” he said. Source: South African Police Service

Andrew Kenny is a writer, an engineer and a classical liberal. 

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the IRR.

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