The new year has ushered a great deal of controversy in South Africa after unrelated racists remarks were made by a prominent entrepreneur, economist and estate agent – Justin van Vuuren, Chris Hart and Penny Sparrow, respectively. All of the comments were made on January 3, 2016 via Twitter and Facebook. The remarks were followed by a flurry of social media reactions that rallied against the insensitive remarks that demeaned black South Africans. The comments were unilaterally brought to the attention of the world through a social media concept called Woke Twitter. This term refers to a state of becoming conscious and socially aware of people and organizations that are attempting to promote discrimination and civil rights violations through unflattering statements or policies.
The result of Woke Twitter is a combination of social media activism with hashtags, memes and the mobilization of mass Twitter posts. The effects of the latest reaction by the Woke Twitter community has penetrated deep into the hearts and minds of the general public, government officials and corporate sponsors. For example, Justin van Vuuren, who is the owner of fitness gyms in South Africa, has lost an endorsement deal from FutureLife, a health and well-being food company as a result of his racially provocative statements against black people.
Chris Hart has also suffered serious repercussions for his negative comments against black South Africans, which has led to his suspension from his employer Standard Bank Wealth and Investment. Unfortunately, the peaceful backlash has been mixed with violent threats against Penny Sparrow, which has resulted in her going into hiding as a result of threats against her life for not apologizing for her comments, unlike Vurren and Hart.
Many activists have positioned themselves on the forefront of this issue to represent the voice of many people, black and white, who were offended by the statements of these individuals. One of the activists is famed legal analyst Brenda Wardle. Wardle made this statement regarding Sparrows comments comparing black people to monkeys, “simply put, she unlawfully, intentionally and seriously impaired the dignity of black people by using racially offensive language.”
Wardle has been on the forefront of controversial issues for many years, such as the Oscar Pistorious murder case. Wardle has a Bachelor of Laws Degree from the University of South Africa, and she has been a staunch advocate of issues related to children, education, human rights, politics and poverty. Wardle has made numerous appearances as a guest analyst on major news networks in Africa, Britain and America. She is also the author of the highly analytical book To Kill A Fragile Rose: The State’s Case Against Oscar Leonard Carl Pistorius.