On Facebook, Penny Sparrow used the word to describe New Year’s revellers on Durban’s beach because of the mess she said they made.
She was condemned by many on social media and the hashtag #RacistsMustFall was trending on Twitter.
The South African Human Rights Commission is now investigating the comments, the News24 website reports.
Ms Sparrow took down the original post and replaced it with an apology saying that “everyone makes mistakes”.
She tried to clarify her remarks in an interview with News24 saying: “I made the mistake of comparing them [black people] with monkeys. Monkeys are cute and they’re naughty, but they [black people] don’t see it that way, but I do because I love animals.”
Leading politicians have also got involved in the row.
It emerged that Ms Sparrow is a member of the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) and its leader Mmusi Maimane tweeted that the “comments are racist. They are an insult to me and to our party.”
The DA said in a statement that it has laid criminal charges against her “for infringing the dignity of all South Africans and for dehumanising black South Africans”.
Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula tweeted that Ms Sparrow was “an unrepentant racist”.
Spokesperson for the South African Human Rights Commission Isaac Mangena said that its own investigation could lead to legal steps, News24 reports.
“It is very concerning to the Commission that 22 years into democracy there are still comments and actions that incite and promote racism.
“These utterances have gone viral and angered many. They open the wounds of millions who were formerly oppressed by the apartheid government.”
Apartheid, which legally enforced a racial hierarchy privileging white South Africans, ended in 1994 with the election of the country’s first democratic government.
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