Investec’s Fani Titi wins k-word case
Court finds that the word is racially offensive when spoken by anyone of any colour
In a potentially precedent-setting case, Investec co-CEO Fani Titi has proved that his former friend Peter-Paul Ngwenya impaired his dignity by calling him a “QwaQwa k****r” in an SMS, after the Randburg magistrate’s court dismissed Ngwenya’s argument that the k-word was not racist if used by a black person.
Ngwenya’s lawyer Nqabayethu Buthelezi indicated that the politically connected businessman and former Robben Island prisoner will seek to appeal against his conviction for crimen injuria, defined as the “wilful injury to someone’s dignity, caused by the use of obscene or racially offensive language or gestures”, for using the k-word in reference to Titi.
“We are of the view that another court may arrive at a different conclusion on the same facts,” Buthelezi said.
Buthelezi and Ngwenya had argued that the k-word needed to be understood within the context which it was said, and stressed that Titi himself had not actually taken offence to the term as he had not laid a crimen injuria charge.
“He [Titi] can’t say that the word is racially abusing him,” Buthelezi said.
Magistrate Pravina Raghunandan rejected that argument on Thursday and convicted Ngwenya of crimen injuria for sending Titi a text message, intended for his business partner Aqueel Patel, in which he called Titi a “Qwaqwa k****r” and a “Bantustan boss”.
In the same SMS‚ Ngwenya also told Patel that “you will bleed” and that Titi “will see his mother”‚ which Titi testified that he interpreted as a threat to his life, given that Ngwenya knew his mother had died.
Raghunandan acquitted Ngwemya of violating a final protection order that Titi obtained against him in 2016, which prohibited Ngwenya from harassing, threatening or having contact with him. The relationship between the two men, who have been friends for two decades, turned ugly as a result of a multimillion-rand deal that went sour. Ngwenya has reportedly said that Titi owes him R54m.
The magistrate, however, found that Ngwenya had impaired Titi’s dignity by referring to him with the k-word.
Referring to her previous judgment against former real estate agent Vicki Momberg, who she sentenced to two years in jail for repeatedly using the k-word to abuse a policeman, Raghunandan ruled that the “k-word is unique in the South African context, and one that is associated with a past of emotion abuse, political violence and economic dispossession”.
“It is intentionally used to reduce the status of all African people .... The use of the k-word is the ultimate in disrespect,” she said, adding that it was “the most abhorrent word” and amounted to a “denigration of African culture”.
Prosecutor Yusuf Baba had argued that Ngwenya’s use of the
k-word was “clearly intended to insult and dehumanise Mr Titi and was clearly experienced by Titi to be extremely injurious”.
“It is unimaginable that anyone in this country, and in particular [Ngwenya], could genuinely have said that it was morally and legally acceptable for people of the same race to call the other the k-word,” he argued.