A flag displaying the ruling African National Congress' (ANC)
Johannesburg - AFP
South Africa's ruling ANC party on Tuesday launched legal action over a white estate agent's Facebook comments that compared black beachgoers to monkeys in a growing row about post-apartheid racism.
The African National Congress, which led the struggle against white-minority rule, said it was pursuing a case against Penny Sparrow and a recent spate of other allegedly racist online postings.
Sparrow's comments sparked a storm of protest and renewed debate about racism among white people in the country 22 years since Nelson Mandela came to power vowing national reconciliation.
The ANC said in a statement that it was laying "charges of crimen injuria (intentionally impairing the dignity of others) against a number of South Africans who have made racist remarks on a number of social media."
Sparrow, a real estate agent from Park Rynie in the southern province of KwaZulu-Natal, complained on Facebook about black people littering beaches during New Year's celebrations.
"From now 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," she said in the posting on Saturday.
The ANC said it would also lodge a complaint with the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) because such comments "belittled" and "insulted" black South Africans.
"It is troubling that bigots who once kept their views to themselves now seem emboldened," party spokesman Zizi Kodwa said.
Sparrow later deleted the post and apologised, saying she did not "mean it to be a personal insult to anyone".
Several other white South Africans have also been subject to fierce criticism over tweets with allegedly racial connotations.
Prominent economic analyst Chris Hart was suspended by Standard Bank after tweeting about a growing "hatred towards minorities".
Prominent economic analyst Chris Hart was suspended by Standard Bank for what it said were "racist undertones" in a tweet suggesting there was a a growing "hatred towards minorities", seen as referring to the treatment of whites.
The furore has highlighted racial divisions and sensitivities in South Africa, which faces a dire economic outlook as growth slows sharply and mass unemployment persists.
A survey in December by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation concluded that most South Africans felt "race relations have either stayed the same or deteriorated" since the first democratic elections in 1994.
The main opposition Democratic Alliance party, of which Sparrow is a member, stressed it abhorred racism and laid criminal charges against her for "dehumanising black South Africans".