Former KwaZulu-Natal south coast estate agent Penny Sparrow, who is facing criminal charges for her racist online comments against black people this week, is now on the run.
Sparrow (68), who sparked South Africa’s latest social-media war by calling black people monkeys in her comments about New Year’s Day revellers at Margate Beach, has disappeared after charges of crimen injuria were laid against her at the Hillbrow Police Station this week by a number of people, including Progressive Business Forum chairperson Mzwanele Manyi.
On Friday, her daughter Charmaine Cowrie, with whom Sparrow has lived and worked since November, told City Press at her landscaping and nursery business in Park Rynie that her mother had “gone underground”.
“I don’t share her opinions,” said Cowrie, who was accompanied by a friend. “Unfortunately, that’s all I have to say at this time. She has gone underground.”
Sparrow’s former boss, Jawitz Scottburgh franchise owner Avanti Low, has received a series of death threats because of the comments. Sparrow left the company in November.
“We have nothing to do with Penny Sparrow,” said a clearly stressed Low, a South African of Indian descent, at her offices on Friday. “She worked here from mid-May until November 2, when she left.
“She wasn’t well and was not a very active agent. We didn’t exactly move in the same social circles, but I had absolutely no idea she was like this. If I had known, she would have left a lot quicker, I can assure you,” said Low.
Low, who runs the area’s only black-owned estate agency, said that during her spell working for Jawitz, Sparrow had handled five deals, but had not sold a single property. Only one of the prospective buyers she had liaised with was black.
“I’m this area’s first non-white estate agent. I’ve had my own fair share of racial slurs hurled at me over the years. I am so appalled by what she said after so many years of democracy. It hurts … that somebody who thinks like that was working here,” she said.
Low said she, her family and her children had received a series of death threats by SMS on Friday.
“We have reported the threats to the police. This is horrible. There are people coming here to look for her all the time, wanting to know why she is working for me, but she left here last year,” she said.
“There has been an impact on business this week. What it will be in the longer term, I don’t know, but I can see that there will be an impact. This is hurting us.”
Low, who employed Sparrow after meeting her while doing business with a local newspaper for which Sparrow sold advertising, said she had confronted her on the phone about her comments.
“It is so unfair that she has gone into hiding, leaving innocent people like us to deal with the consequences. She needs to account for what she has done.”
Both Cowrie and her friend said they had also been receiving death threats since the storm over Sparrow’s comments broke.
“There are death threats every day,” said the friend.
Sparrow has, since the beginning of the week, failed to answer calls from this newspaper as the outcry over her comments grew. She closed her social-media accounts and was not seen at her daughter’s home in the quiet south coast town for several days.
She not only faces the criminal charges laid by Manyi, but is under investigation by the SA Human Rights Commission. Sparrow has also been dismissed as a member by her favoured political party, the DA, which is contemplating laying criminal charges against her.