The p-word under the judicial lens

The p-word under the judicial lens. Picture: File

The p-word under the judicial lens. Picture: File

Published Feb 29, 2024


The much frowned upon p-word, often used in Afrikaans in the context of referring to one’s “mother”, has come under judicial scrutiny in the Western Cape High Court, as it landed its user with a suspended jail sentence.

The accused, only identified in the judgment as BL, was charged with two counts of contravention of the Domestic Violence Act. It is alleged that he had contravened the terms of a protection order granted in June 2023 last year when he uttered these words aimed at his sister.

She obtained the protection order against him, in terms of which he was interdicted from being violent towards her, and which prohibited him from swearing at her.

So, when armed with the protection order, he again swore at her, she obtained an order that he had contravened the protection order. The brother was slapped with a 12-month suspended jail sentence and the matter came before the high court to review and set aside the suspended jail sentence.

The sister and her children reside at their family home, owned by their mother, where the accused also lives. There has been tension between the sister and her brother, the accused, for some time, which had resulted in her obtaining the protection order.

The sister testified that her children were studying for the school exams on the evening of June 5, when the accused came into the main house and prepared food for himself. He proceeded to play music loudly, in response to which the children requested he turn down the volume.

He refused and the sister’s teenage daughter then turned the volume down. She testified that the accused threatened her daughter with assault should she lower the volume again.

According to her, he told the teenager in Afrikaans that “ek gaan ek julle in jou ma se p… in slaan”.

Judge Gayaat Salie, who heard the review application, remarked that this phrase is a vulgar manner of speaking, loosely translated as him threatening to beat them into “her mother’s vagina.”

The accused thereafter increased the volume, and expressed profanities in a similar vein, and is alleged to have stated: “vat weer aan my p… se musiek, julle is in julle p…”, meaning that if she again interferes with the music they would be in trouble.

The sister immediately called the police, which resulted in the brother spending the night in the police cells.

She said when he returned to the house the next morning, he again threatened to assault the first complainant using the p-word.

The accused testified that whilst an argument ensued between himself and his sister and her daughter, stemming from him playing loud music on the night in question, the teenager exclaimed that she is going to put off the “damn music.” He switched the music on again and tempers soared.

He explained that he angrily stated: “los my ma se p... se ding.” In essence the latter statement is a crude manner of speaking instructing the teenager to leave the music alone with words cursing the music player.

The lower court which slapped him with the suspended jail sentence, reasoning in its judgment that there are various versions as to exactly what words were uttered by the accused. However, the court accepted that the p-word was in fact used by the accused.

“I find it problematic however that simply using a swear word in his communication to the second complainant (daughter) had amounted to a breach of the interdict and in particular contravention of the condition that he is not to swear at the first complainant (sister) or her relatives, “ Judge Salie said.

She explained that the p-word as it was found to have been used by the accused must be considered in the grammatical context. Whilst the word is indeed used as an offensive one in the Afrikaans language, it has also evolved over a number of years to be colloquially used across our society and within various community circles.

“The culture of using it as a verb, noun or adjective has become prevalent and the term is used interchangeably depending on the context and phrasing of the sentence. It of course remains a term not used in polite company, however, the question is whether the State had proven beyond reasonable doubt that the accused had in fact sworn at the second complainant and in doing so had verbally abused her.”

The judge said on these facts and given the circumstances, she is not persuaded that the use of the p-word by the accused to describe or give definition to the music (the thing) amounted to hurling abuse, thus a contravention of the interdict.

The word in question was not communicated in the context as a noun, in other words, the complainant was not referred to by the p-word. Same can be said for it not having been used as a verb.

“The complainant was not threatened to be assaulted or beaten with illustration of the p-word. Had it been the case that the p-word had been used as a noun or a verb, the position would be different and would be considered as a violation of the interdict.”

In light of her findings, the judge overturned the brother’s conviction.

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