The #PennySparrow debacle resulted in these six hashtags concerning racism in South Africa

On New Year’s Day, real-estate agent, Penny Sparrow, a white South African woman, took to Facebook to express her displeasure at the behaviour of black people who visited Durban’s beaches to mark the celebrations, by labelling them “monkeys” who caused “huge dirt and discomfort to others.” According to her post, based on the amount of litter that they left behind, she would refer to black South Africans in the derogatory term from then on.


Sparrow’s racist post immediately went viral and was greeted with national and universal outrage as well as condemnation on social media. It also became the basis on which other conflicts around the subject of racism in South Africa took off, causing hashtags such as #RacistsMustFall and #NoToRacism amongst others to spring up on Twitter.

Following the reaction to her post and the consequent social and political rifts that it brewed, Sparrow posted an apology, stating that she didn’t mean to personally insult anyone. She further revealed in a radio interview that she did not mean to be “rude or horrible, but it’s just that [black people] make a mess. It’s just how they are.”

Apparently, Sparrow’s ‘apology’ missed its mark and the damage she caused had gotten far beyond control. Presently, she faces charges of ‘crimen injuria’, along with Justin Van Vuuren and Christ Hart (two others who were attacked for their racist comments around the same period) and other such guilty individuals, by the African National Congress (ANC).

Below are some of the controversies that arose on social media off the back of New Year’s and #PennySparrow’s comments.


Shortly after Penny Sparrow’s Facebook post went viral, #PennySparrowMustFall started to trend on Twitter. South Africans called for punitive measures to be taken against Sparrow, as her comments – and racism – could not be condoned. Her former employers, Jawitz Properties released a disclaimer clarifying her status with the company and stating that they neither tolerated nor shared her views.

#NoToRacism Popular South Africans such as Yusuf Abramjee and Chris Hani, along with other notable social media influencers added #NoToRacism to their comments on social media, in response to Sparrow’s statements. Some even proposed that her case get the full #ZumaMustFall treatment.

#RacistsMustFall The #RacistsMustFall campaign started as a general response to both the post-New Year’s racist comments of Sparrow and another “disgusted” Durban resident, Justin Van Vuuren.

#JoannnStrauss Jo-Anne Strauss, a former Miss South Africa, got caught in the middle of the #PennySparrow controversy because of her tweet which was seemingly misunderstood. Strauss tweeted “It’s not what you call me, but what I answer to that counts.”, an African proverb which she used to express her opinion on #PennySparrow, but South Africans did not take kindly to her ‘high road’ disposition on the matter.


However, Strauss lashed back at ‘tweeps’ over misunderstanding the context of her tweet and refused to rethink her stance, but eventually agreed with another user on why her opinion could have been misunderstood.


Standard Bank employee, Chris Hart, a renowned global investment strategist, received criticisms over his tweet about apartheid and minorities which majority of South Africans viewed as condescending and racist. He is currently suspended and under investigation and Standard Bank promises to take disciplinary action against him.

#DA The Democratic Alliance Party was not left out in the media line of fire, despite the criminal charges that one of its members, Herman Mashaba, laid against Penny Sparrow. #DA appeared on Twitter on the basis of the body being a “racist party”.


In a separate but definitely related case, Justin Van Vuuren created his own social media frenzy with a racist comment made over the holidays. Twitter users called him and others who displayed a similar behaviour, out in their quest for justice. He is presently facing charges over hate speech.

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