Vicki Momberg just after she was sentenced to 3 years in Randburg Magistrate court. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES/ SIMPHIWE NKWALI
Vicki Momberg just after she was sentenced to 3 years in Randburg Magistrate court. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES/ SIMPHIWE NKWALI

Does the punishment fit the crime? The question is being asked about the year-long bans imposed by Cricket Australia on Steve Smith and David Warner — and about the effective two-year jail sentence given to Johannesburg woman Vicki Momberg for repeatedly using the K-word against officials who, ironically, were trying to help her after someone had robbed her.

In the case of Smith and Warner, it has been pointed out that they were caught doing what many other teams have been guilty of for years. In the Momberg case, the extreme offensiveness of the behaviour is not contested, but some wonder if two years in jail is appropriate, given how many other antisocial and violent criminal offenders go unpunished, or get laughable fines or suspended sentences.

There is also the issue of fairness. EFF leader Julius Malema makes racist utterances against whites with impunity, and incites people to break the law by seizing property.

However, the purpose of judicial and administrative sanctions is not only to punish, but to deter. In the cases of Smith and Warner and Momberg, dramatic precedents have been set.

The question is not so much whether the punishment fits the crime, but whether it is aligned with the times. Judging by the reaction in editorials and on social media, in both cases it is.

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