While the residents of Imizamo Yethu have been angered by Vanessa Hartley’s racist Facebook post, community leaders say they cannot allow a “moment” to destroy the bridges that have been built between Hout Bay’s respective communities.
Since the post was made on the Hout Bay Complete Facebook page on Sunday December 4, they have been rallying to calm people, fearing some might take their anger out on white residents and visitors to Imizamo Yethu.
Ms Hartley, whom the Sentinel has since established is not a resident of Hout Bay as reported in the media, has been widely condemned for the post on Sunday December 4 in which she likened Africans to “stupid animals” and called for them to be tied to a rope.
The public outcry has also resulted in her suspension from work, pending an investigation.
“To (sic) many Africans flocking to Hout Bay. Draw up a petition. Soon there will be nothing left of Hout Bay,” she wrote in the post.
When users on the Hout Bay Complete Facebook page reacted with anger to her statement, she later responded: “I don’t see that stating the mere term ‘African’ as racist. What has become of freedom of speech? Why do you have to go down this road!”
Ms Hartley works for Parow-based security company The Eye of Horus, owned by Ryno de Villiers. Both Ms Hartley and Mr De Villiers later claimed on social media that a drunk person had taken her phone at a bar and used it to post the statements.
“I would like to apologise for comments that were made on Facebook via my phone as my phone was at the bar and someone thought they were very funny but now they upset me and a lot of people,” she wrote before deleting her account.
Messages left for Ms Hartley and Mr De Villiers were not responded to this week. Both their phones were off and an email to The Eye of Horus bounced back.
However, on Tuesday December 6, Mr De Villiers posted to the Hout Bay Club 790 Directory Facebook page that after a meeting, the company “has decided to immediately suspend Ms Vanessa Hartley, pending further investigation”.
“The Company also distance (sic) itself from all proven racial comments.”
Shortly after Ms Hartley’s post appeared on Sunday, Hout Bay Civic Association (HBCA) secretary Roscoe Jacobs laid a complaint against her at the Hout Bay police station, while the ANC in the Western Cape has also laid a complaint with the SA Human Rights Commission.
In response to Ms Hartley’s explanation, Mr Jacobs said the HBCA and the people of Hout Bay and South Africa could not accept such a “nonsensical and insincere” apology.
“It is more likely that your phone will get stolen in a bar if left unattended than someone posting on your Facebook and leaving your phone to be found by yourself. If it is so, please tell us who made this racist comment on your behalf, if it was not you,” he said.
The association said it hoped the decision to open a criminal case against Ms Hartley would deter others from making racist comments, be it on social media or behind closed doors. It also called on Ms Hartley to hand herself over to the police.
Imizamo Yethu community leader Samkelo Krweqe said residents were “very upset” by the statements.
“The community feels insulted. Here you have a person who has provoked the black majority, and all that person is trying to do is divide us and plant doubt in our minds,” he said.
“We have been trying to calm things down, and instilling the message in the community that not all white people think like that. We cannot allow a person to derail us, because we are all South Africans.”
That said, Mr Krweqe hoped the the “full might of the law” would be brought down on Ms Hartley.
“It is very important that this person is brought to book. The people are very aware of the Penny Sparrow incident and others like it, but never before has something like this occurred so close to home. We have been working very hard to contain their anger, because the last thing we want is people attacking passing motorists at IY circle or the white tourists going on a township tour.
“You cannot go around saying things like this. It’s like us calling white people boers or other insults. We have our differences, but we are all South Africans. That is why the law must punish Vanessa, so that people know they can’t say these things.”
Another community leader, Kenny Tokwe, agreed that the people of Imizamo Yethu were “not taking the post well”.
“I am very disappointed in what she said. She should see all people as humans, and not see us as sub-humans. I wish she could come here to see who we really are as people, to come and work with us. She must also understand that we are not going anywhere. We are not going to vanish.”
What he couldn’t understand was that Ms Hartley had referred to Africans as “flocking” to Hout Bay.
“How can Africans flock to Hout Bay? We are born of this land. Hout Bay is already for all Africans.”
He said he wanted Ms Hartley to realise the residents of Imizamo Yethu were a “peace-loving” people.
“She is an individual among many people who said a hurtful thing. We also have individuals in our community who say stupid things. Our residents understand that. She must not come to Hout Bay and ruin what we have here in our beautiful town. But we also cannot allow a moment to break what we have built together as a community.”
Steve Belcher, the creator and administrator of Hout Bay Complete said he had initially not been aware of the post, but had seen a later message in which a woman had claimed her phone had been hacked and apologised for her comments. It was only later that he learnt of the original post.
“I abhor racism. I think what she said is disgraceful. I have tried very hard to include the views of all Hout Bay’s communities, but her comments would have done damage. I’m very disappointed,” he said.
Shortly after the original post had been deleted, he had received a call from a man who told him that he was Ms Hartley’s boss.
“He asked me about deleting posts, and told me that her phone had been hacked. I recommended that he take a screen shot of the post before deleting it. I only discovered later that he was the woman’s boyfriend, which made me angry.”
He said Hout Bay Complete users knew that racist views were not tolerated, but he had always tried to keep conversations going.
“Now we have had to delete her from the group. We have also deleted people who supported her views.” The Hout Bay Partnership has also condemned the post.
“The Hout Bay Partnership is committed to the values of inclusiveness, equality and integration, and we believe that the majority of local residents share these values. Racism on any medium is unacceptable – and illegal – and the diversity of our community is something to be celebrated and nurtured,” said chief operations officer Chantal Richey.
Mr Jacobs said Hout Bay was a microcosm of South Africa, in that the community was still structurally divided along lines of race and class. However, many across the colour and class line in the community were working together to ensure that transformation and redress occurred to break down the “legacy of over 300 years of racial oppression”.
The HBCA, he said, wanted the City of Cape Town and Western Cape provincial government to prioritise integrated human settlements in Hout Bay and get rid of apartheid-style town planning.
Hout Bay Residents’ and Ratepayers’ Association chairperson Len Swimmer said: “Our organisation strives to create an harmonious relationship with all the communities in Hout Bay and we have members as well as committee members from Hangberg, Imizamo Yethu and the Hout Bay Valley.”
The association has called on residents and organisations to support its #HoutBayForAll gathering on the Mariners Wharf side of the beach tomorrow, Saturday December 11, from noon.