Twitter: The Politician's Guillotine
This hub is an installment of the series 'Noteworthy Trend of Events in South Africa'.
Consequences of tweeting in South Africa
Helen Zille, former leader of the DA (second largest political party in South Africa), and current Premier of the Western Cape Province, has been proverbially hanged, drawn and quartered after she has tweeted something positive about Colonialism.
She was summoned to appear before the DA's Federal Legal Commission on Saturday, March 25th . The report of the commission was promptly sent to the DA’s highest decision making body.
And now South Africans wait in anticipation to hear if Helen Zille gets the boot or not.
Helen Zille’s controversial tweets
“For those claiming legacy of colonialism was ONLY negative, think of our independent judiciary, transport infrastructure, piped water.”
“Would we have had a transition into specialized health care and medication without colonial influence? Just be honest, please.”
“Getting onto an aeroplane now and won’t get onto the wi-fi so that I can cut off those who think EVERY aspect of colonial legacy was bad.”
Her tweets ran like a bush fire through Twitter, enraging black South Africans to the point where wars were declared in the days of Nimrod.
The leader of the DA, Mmusi Maimane, immediately reacted to the tweets of his predecessor. “Let’s make this clear: Colonialism, like apartheid, was a system of oppression and subjugation. It can never be justified.” He explained to reporters that Zille’s tweets are inconsistent with the policy of the DA, and that disciplinary actions against her have to be taken.
When realizing the tsunami of anger she has created, Zille apologized, but in vain. Nobody, except her loyal followers, has any desire to forgive her.
In a column Zille posted in the Daily Maverick on Sunday, March 19th, she continued digging herself deeper into her political grave by comparing South Africa to Singapore, and by expressing her concerns about the DA becoming exactly like the ANC who “swallows every tenet, myth and shibboleth of African racial-nationalist propaganda, including the scape-goating of minorities, populist mobilisation and political patronage”.
She reminded her readers what Nelson Mandela said about missionary schools: “These schools have often been criticised for being colonialist in their attitudes and practices. Yet, even with such attitudes, I believe their benefits outweighed their disadvantages.”
Some responses to Zille’s tweets
In order to understand the following responses, keep in mind that -
- The ANC is the leading political party in South Africa, and therefore its president, Jacob Zuma, is also the president of South Africa.
- The DA (Democratic Alliance) is the second largest political party, and the ANC’s strongest opposition.
- Because they got more votes than the ANC, the DA controls the Western Cape Province as well as three metros: Tswane (Pretoria), Johannesburg, and Port Elizabeth.
- The DA could easily win the 2019-election, but only if its current leader manages to destroy the party's reputation of being a 'host for white racists’.
“Colonialism was a crime against humanity. There isn’t a single aspect of it that can be said to be positive or beneficial to Africans.” - DA’s national spokesperson, Phumzile van Damme.
“She said if it was not for colonialism we would not be having piped water or independent judiciary. Isn't that saying whites are better thinkers?” - M Lekala.
“She is a racist, proving that not only Afrikaans speaking whites are racists, but also English-speaking whites." - Mpo.
“Zille’s tweets are premised on the untenable (racist) assumption that colonized countries would not have developed without being colonized and exploited.” - Esteemed columnist and constitutional law expert, Pierre de Vos.
“As someone who hates realpolitik/political correctness, she is becoming a liability. Her boldness belongs in academia, not competitive politics.” - Gauta Komane
"I don't think she's still fit to continue to lead the party as premier of the province. This is a major issue, and she's exposing the DA very unnecessarily." – Political analyst, Ralph Mathekga.
"It’s a bit like saying the Holocaust was bad but Hitler's engineers were great." – a caller on local talk radio 702.
“The only outcome of the Helen Zille Twitter saga that won’t seriously harm the DA is if she resigns from all her political positions as soon as possible and retires from politics.” - Author, columnist and documentary filmmaker, Max du Preez,
The Black First Land First movement has lodged a criminal complaint against Zille.
"Leaders who praise Zille’s travesty should be dealt with.” – Johannesburg’s DA Mayor, Herman Mashaba. “They should be dealt with accordingly and decisively”.
EFF, the third largest political party, called for Zille’s removal.
"It is bizarre to burn Zille at the stake!. SA… is gripped by a deadening intellectual censorship that makes treason out of reason…. It is shameful that the DA, for the sake of an illusory short-term political advantage, is happy to collude in limiting democratic space.” - William Saunderson-Meyer of the Citizen newspaper.
“Zille’s tweets were offensive and “stupid” and in violation of DA party policy, but they did not amount to hate speech.” - Ferial Haffajee, “editor-at-large” of Huffington Post.
“It is the public’s perception of Zille’s comments that is an issue, and not the comments she made.” – DA Western Cape interim leader, Bonginkosi Madikizela.
“This is getting boring - either we are able to debate issues or not - if the latter, be prepared for a new totalitarian rule.” - Bob, who described himself as someone who doesn’t admire Zille’s ‘duplicitous, disingenuous and uncaring’ leadership. “If indeed the cradle of mankind resides in South Africa, then southern "Africans" and their progeny colonized the entire world? - kinda a curved ball nè?”
“Freedom comes with responsibility. Nobody stopped Zille from saying what she did. She was not prevented from making her statements. She made them, so she has had her freedom [of speech]. She now has to deal with the consequences of that freedom. And people who disagree with her have as much right to criticize her words.” - Brad
Background: Helen Zille
Otta Helene (Helen) Zille, born in Johannesburg on March 9th 1951, began her career as a journalist and political correspondent in 1974. At a time when the majority whites were pro-Apartheid, and members of anti-Apartheid movements could be jailed and even executed for treason, she joined the Young Progressives – a youth movement of the then liberal and anti-apartheid Progressive Party.
In 1977, Helen was the one who obtained concrete proof that the anti-apartheid activist and father of Black Consciousness ideas, Steve Biko, had not died in prison as the result of an extended hunger strike, but of a serious head injury inflicted by a security police officer. During the State of Emergency in 1986, Helen and her husband, Professor Johann Maree, offered their home as a safe house for black political activists.
In 1993 Helen became Director of Development and Public Affairs at the University of Cape Town.
Elected as Member of the Western Cape Provincial Legislature, she was appointed Member of the Western Cape Province’s Executive Council (MEC) for Education in 1999.
In 2004 she became a Member of Parliament with the Democratic Alliance (DA).
She became Mayor of Cape Town in 2006, and was chosen by the National Press as Newsmaker of the year 2006.
In May 2007 she was selected as the leader of the DA.
While continuing in her position as executive mayor of Cape Town, she was selected as World Mayor of the Year in 2008 - from a field of 820 candidates.
In 2009 she became Premier of the Western Cape.
When Helen resigned as leader of the DA in 2015, in order to focus only on her tasks as premier, she was succeeded by Mmusi Maimane, who could very easily become SA next president if he does the right thing at the right time to the right person/people.
Helen speaks English, Afrikaans, Xhosa, and German.
This is not the first time Helen Zille's tweets have sparked outrage -
In 2011, she was condemned after advocating charges for attempted murder for men who know they are HIV positive, yet refuse to use condoms.
In 2012, she was in deep trouble after referring to pupils, who had flocked from the Eastern Cape to the Western Cape for better education, as ‘refugees’. (At the same time it was okay for the (black) Minister of Basic Education to call education in the Eastern Cape a ‘horror story’.)
In 2016, Helen sparked outrage when she tweeted, “Why is it OK to racially classify ppl for jobs but not to identify ppl at a table by their race?” She referred to an incident in a restaurant in Cape Town, where a black waiter described customers at a table he was serving as ‘Two Blacks’, and Helen hinted that the ANC’s Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) program is racist, as it doesn't allow whites to deliver services to the government, and it compels employers to appoint employees according to their race instead of their qualifications.
Opinion of an owfma-sa
Being a big fan of Helen Zille, I could not see any racism in her tweets. However, after reading about a hundred responses to her tweets and some opinion pieces, I wish I could delete my impulsive comment -
"Only the hyper-sensitive, convergent thinker can read racism in her tweets. She was reading about Singapore, who has built its flourishing economy on infrastructure established and abandoned by the British colonialist, and she thought that South Africans should follow Singapore's example. This hullabaloo about her tweets only proves that black South Africans are still in a state of mourning, and therefore hyper-sensitive. It's going to take another 80 years before the sufferings of the past will no longer hurt." - Owfma-SA
In her column posted in the Daily Maverick, Helen wrote, “While travel broadens the mind, I tend to forget that, on returning to South Africa, it is best to shrink your mind again to fit the contours of political correctness. Especially if you are white. We pay lip service to equal citizenship. In reality, every opinion is judged on the basis of the colour of the person who expresses it. “Speaking while white” is considered the ultimate sin, in terms of the increasingly popular ideology called 'critical race theory'."
I would not use the word ‘shrink’ when referring to my mind's capacity to understand the feelings, convictions and mindset of black South Africans, but rather the word ‘stretch’. Being bribed, outwitted, and brutally forced into submissiveness, being exploited, mistreated and deprived of all opportunities to develop on the same tempo as whites for more than three-hundred years - only black South Africans truly know what its like to have all of this imprinted in one's genes.
Being a woman, I have suffered but only a little rejection and contempt from chauvinists and snobs in my life, and it took me decades to repair and re-build my self-esteem. To be honest, I still don't want to hear anything positive about chauvinists and snobs. The bad and wrongs they have done to ME (and still to others) simply overshadow any good and right they have done (and still do) to nation and country.
So, I withdraw my comment and hope that whatever the DA decides to do with Helen Zille will work out for the best.
"Colonialism was like a spoon of sugar that gives a tired person an instant pep only to drop him deeper into the well of exhaustion." - Owfma-SA
Helen's tweets have forced the DA into a corner where its leaders are now compelled to prove that they are not puppets of white supremacists and racists. Obviously, it is time for this to happen.
My hope is that Helen will resign and spend the rest of her life in peace. After all, she has done more than enough for her country and nation. She deserves a peaceful and happy retirement.
Helen Zille, some of us will always believe that you were the right person at the right time at the right place to make the right things happen. We, who believe this, will always love you.