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Tweets recall South Africa's shameful past

Date

Robyn Dixon

Jessica Leandra Dos Santos

Jessica Leandra Dos Santos

JOHANNESBURG: Two young models - one of them white, the other black - from a generation too young to have personal memories of apartheid, have exposed South Africa's racist underbelly in recent days with a series of angry tweets.

The seemingly casual racist remarks by the models suggest that some members of South Africa's ''born free'' generation, who grew up after the end of apartheid, nonetheless may sport toxic attitudes.

Late last week, Jessica Leandra Dos Santos, a 20-year-old blonde model who says her days ''revolve around being kind'', sent a tweet that was anything but.

South African model, Tshidi Thamana.

South African model, Tshidi Thamana.

Using a highly offensive racial epithet - kaffir - known in South Africa as the K-word, Dos Santos told more than 6000 followers that she had just ''taken on'' an ''arrogant and disrespectful'' black man in a supermarket. ''Should have punched him, should have,'' her tweet ended.

By hitting send, she torpedoed her reputation, a valuable sponsorship and a modelling award that was handed to her last year by a men's magazine.

In an apology published the next day, Dos Santos said she was angry when she tweeted, claiming that the man in the supermarket had sexually harassed her.

''I tweeted rather irresponsibly last night … using a harsh and unkind word about the gentleman who had confronted me with sexual remarks and sounds. … Please do understand that I was acting in pure anger and frustration at the time and although we know this is no excuse, it is a lesson learnt and again I am sincerely apologetic.''

But her defence that racism was ''not in my nature'' was undermined by a previous tweet about a confrontation with a black garage attendant.

''Highlight of my weekend? Almost punching an #Engen petrol assistant. No tolerance for rude African monkeys whatsoever,'' the tweet read. (She has deleted both tweets, but not before they ricocheted among South Africa's Twittersphere.)

Then came Tshidi Thamana, a young black model and actress who tweeted in response to the white model's tweets.

''Dear Mr Peter Mokaba,'' she said, referring to a former leader of the African National Congress youth wing, ''I wish All White People were killed when you sang 'Kill the Boer' we wouldn't be experiencing Jessica Leandra's racism now.'' (Mr Mokaba popularised the song, Shoot the Boer, a reference to white farmers.)

When people condemned her comment, she said: ''Dear everybody … Why do people think that I'm a racist for saying being a racist is wrong SMH (shaking my head) … Really Now!''

Thamana has also apologised and also blamed her anger.

''Yes, racism is wrong and I apologise for the 'kill all whites' tweet. It was tweeted in anger and yes, condemnation of each other is wrong.'' Thamana then deleted her Twitter account.

Hate speech is illegal in the country, and the South African Human Rights Commission released a statement on Monday saying that it was processing complaints against Dos Santos ''and others''.

''Ms Dos Santos's alleged remarks contribute to a disturbing pattern that seems to be taking place in the social media space, and has to be addressed … her remarks have the potential to undermine social relations and may potentially also violate the provisions of the Constitution and the Equality Act,'' the commission said.

The Daily Mail and The Guardian columnist Sarah Britten wrote that every time someone in South Africa behaves like the two models, ''the entire premise of post-apartheid South Africa goes on trial''.

''What's obvious from the case of Jessica and Tshidi is that South Africans are in desperate need of anger management. We seem incapable of resolving conflict without resorting to racist generalisations. Somehow, if we see bad behaviour, we immediately attribute it to race rather than a failure of character.''

Los Angeles Times

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