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Zille: Three tweets to the wind

By Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh

After the DA leader’s first Twitter-related faux pas, describing voters as “supporting the ANC because they were given KFC”, I winced, bit my lip, and continued with my day. After her second slur, depicting Simphiwe Dana as a “professional black” for apparently trading on her race in criticising the Western Cape government’s approach to race relations, I furrowed my brow, deepened my breathing, and let it slide. However, in the wake of Zille’s third provocation, comparing Eastern Cape learners who migrate to the Western Cape in search of better educational opportunities as “refugees”, I cannot contain my disdain.

What puzzles me from the outset is how much the DA leader’s tweets impede her party’s progress. The DA’s 2011 election slogan “One Nation, One Future” and Zille’s own carefully crafted public refrains such as, “we are working hard to build Madiba’s vision”, show clear evidence that the DA is consciously attempting to rebrand itself as the rightful inheritor of South Africa’s non-racial tradition. But I’m afraid Zille’s own personal comments are inciteful, racialistic and represent just the opposite of what most of us understand by the so-called “Madiba” legacy. They make her beshu-wearing, kwaito-dancing electioneering appear increasingly as a calculated charade. One cannot help but think, therefore, that she has shot herself and her party in the foot by further alienating black voters who might have been prepared to consider her party as an option; voters I daresay the DA desperately needs if it is to stop being what Jeremy Cronin humorously describes as “the smallest opposition in the world”.

The comments are also inconsistent. When in September last year Jimmy Manyi was rightly criticised for a similar comment, remarking that the Western Cape possessed an “over-supply of coloureds”, Zille was quick to respond, calling his comments “racist” and “irresponsible” in her monthly newsletter. Indeed, she went further and accused Trevor Manuel – who publicly criticised Manyi – of “carefully coordinated damage control”, implying an attempt to rescue “coloured” votes. If the reason for Manyi’s “irresponsibility” is its infringement upon South Africa’s tenuous and fragile racial contract, how can the same criticism not apply to her three statements, too? Either racialistic comments ought to be removed from our public discourse altogether or not; our political leaders cannot sing to the tune of “Madiba” one minute, but when it suits them sing to the opposite tune the next.

Equally deserving of opprobrium is the DA leader’s initial refusal to apologise, which for political, if not moral reasons would appear to be the strategic thing to do, not to mention the lack of any public condemnation from within her own party qua Manuel. This also raises questions about how free other DA leaders feel to voice dissent, and to what lengths they will go to defend statements in contravention of their own party’s core message. Again, the statements make symbolic gestures like the appointments of Maimane and Mazibuko appear a mere smokescreen, preventing the public from seeing the real party; a party in which, despite the rhetoric, only 10 out of 73 parliamentarians and 2 out of 9 provincial leaders are black.

Moreover, Zille’s defence is equally problematic in that she attempts to divert attention from her own comment, by focusing on how poorly the ANC is mismanaging the education crisis in the Eastern Cape. This is a false dichotomy: either support poor standards of education in the EC or admit that young black school children in the WC can be described as “refugees”. The truth is that most South Africans agree that the Eastern Cape education system is in crisis but also do not believe this gives political leaders licence to Zill(e). To say that education is “the real issue” is a red herring: our public discourse and the way it relates to race is every bit as important as the state of education in the Eastern Cape. Our very nation’s unity and the stability of the evermore fragile racial compact in South Africa is the Mandela legacy, and depends largely on how our leaders treat race in the public sphere.

But was the uproar a case of much ado about nothing? Perhaps if we lived in another country, with another history, these statements could safely be relegated to the ash heap of common, puerile politics. But in South Africa, statements like these, from both sides of the political divide, should be treated with the utmost seriousness. Violent protest is again on the rise in our country, and is driven predominantly by poor black youths, the same youths that Zille might describe as “refugees”. For instance, according to a recent report released by the South African Institute of Race Relations, a typical violent gathering in South Africa now includes between 3000 and 4000 people. In 2009 alone, 800 of such gatherings were recorded, up by 10% from the year before. Just this past Human Rights day, in Ratanda, Evaton and Sharpeville, 110 people were arrested for damage to property in violent protests. Seventeen of these were minors.

We must therefore ask what message Zille’s statement sends to the residents of Mkwanaza, or the youth of Ratanda, or Evaton or Sharpeville, who are looking for any excuse to vent their justifiable frustrations in the wrong direction. Our political leaders should be seeking to mitigate these disastrous scenarios, as opposed to fuelling them. What can we expect to hear next and what consequences will this have for South Africa, in our already tense political context? Matthews Phosa spoke recently of our own “Arab Spring” emerging; surely the last thing our increasingly fragile democracy can handle is a poorly judged public statement every two months from the DA leader or anybody else for that matter, along with everything else.

Political leaders in South Africa are talking past most of us. The majority of South Africans neither want an Eastern Cape education crisis nor a leader (of the opposition) who is prone to making racialist, if not racist, comments on a regular basis. Perhaps the time has come for a third way: a democratic platform that caters for South Africans, whether they support the ANC or the DA; a movement à la UDF; a platform where young people in particular can voice their views on important issues, separate from the political baggage which constantly forces us into corners, either gagged, or defending positions we know better than to defend. Perhaps young South Africans ought to start creating that space because, as Zille’s comments show, our current political landscape is failing to create it for us.

Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh is a final year undergraduate at the University of Cape Town, majoring in philosophy, politics and economics. He is a One Young World ambassador, a rapper and the founder of a youth leadership training company called Grow2Lead.

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  • One Young World is a UK-based not-for-profit that gathers together the brightest young people from around the world, empowering them to make lasting connections and develop lasting solutions to some of the world's most pressing issues. At the annual One Young World Summit, the most valuable young talent from global and national companies, NGOs, universities and other-forward thinking organisations are joined by world leaders, acting as the One Young World Counsellors.

38 Comments

  1. Rich Rich 15 May 2012

    Yeah, I do agree that Helen should sometimes remove her lips from the horn. But I might be wrong as her comments do bring issues to the surface that need to be discussed. Her comments cannot be construed as hate speech and when taken in context I do not think them racist. But here again I could be wrong because I often struggle to determine what is racist as it is used so often now days and in so many different ways that it tends to blur.

  2. The Creator The Creator 15 May 2012

    Very intelligent, very well written, article.

  3. Kwame Kwame 15 May 2012

    There are no politics in Madam Zille, only ambition for power and to prove herself right! The DA on the other hand is merely a reincarnation of a 300 year old legacy of colonial, racial and economic supremacy. Both the DA and Zille are willing to do and say anything to get what they want, and they serve two different agendas. One strategic, and the other personal.

    You see the brains behind the DA is well concealed, for its basis is founded in the past and going into the future, and cannot afford to show its ugly head, so it chooses to be ‘smart’ and hides behind an ambitious Zille. However, the brains behind DA had to part with something to feed Zille’s hunger, and to her delight she was given the right to personalise the DA with the ‘Zille’ brand and command all aspects. She rules with an iron fist and demands loyalty from Maimane and Mazibuko, even when she is compromised with her rascist utterances.

    But soon the brains will realise her risk and do away with her, and look for yet another ‘personality’ to serve its agenda. DA is a 300 year old plot, not a party!

    This comment has been edited.

  4. Sterling Ferguson Sterling Ferguson 15 May 2012

    @Sizwe, last week Moelesti Mbeki gave a speech and said that seventy per cent of the people that voted for the ANC didn’t work and get family grants. When the DA led by Zille says the same thing she is supposed to be racist and Mbeki whom is black isn’t racist. The opposition party is supposed to speak out on the flaws of the ruling party and come up with solutions to the problems. The refugee statement by Zille wasn’t off the money because many students said that they left the EC because the education system was in chaos and the WC schools were run right. So, you should be asking why a black run government in the EC would let their school system go to pot. When Zille says that COSATU is not trying to solve the unemployment in SA and only interested in protecting the rank and file members that are working, most experts say she is right.

  5. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 15 May 2012

    I do not suport either the DA or the ANC – they are both capitalist and my family have been socialist for generations.

    I do, however, support Helen Zille’s comments both on the refugees from the Eastern Cape and on Jimmy Manyi’s comments.

    The ANC’s black racist abuse of the Cape Coloureds, which has gone on for 18 years now, is a disgusting continuation of the original Black genocide against the Bushman ancestors of the Coloureds in the rest of Africa.

    How come there are too many coloureds in the Cape but not too many Xhosa or Zulus in their Homelands/Bantustans which are STILL racially classified as “black only” 18 years into so-called “democracy”?

  6. Just Saying Just Saying 15 May 2012

    Judging by your ability to comprehend, I am convinced that a UCT education is not “all that”.

    Dana was called a black professional. And the kids were called education refugees, which is totally different from refugees.

    This comment has been edited.

  7. IMWIM IMWIM 15 May 2012

    @Sizwe

    I couldn’t agree more. I think “leaders” should watch their language.

    the “education refugee” tweet wasn’t what people made it to be. I thought the criticism was unfair.

    the “supporting the ANC because they were given KFC” and “professional black” tweets were deplorable; I thought they were very pregnant.

    I don’t think Helen is racist though. She’s just too petty and sarcastic sometimes.

    We all say things that rub others the wrong way at times, but she doesn’t have enough humility to apologize. She compromises the very issues she is raising by focusing on outarguing her critics, which then distracts attention from the real issue to Helen and thus making her (seem) narcissistic.

  8. Sterling Ferguson Sterling Ferguson 15 May 2012

    @Beddy, I hate to say it but, there is too much talk about color and not enough talk about economic development in SA. This is a country where over half of the people are collecting family grants and thousandth of jobs have been exported out of SA, how long can this country survive before the bubble burst? The AG has just issued a report saying billions of rands are unaccounted for and nobody knows what happened to the money. The school system in the EC had children going to school under trees and not in the classroom even though there was money for building programs. The people in the government are all walking around like nothing happened.

  9. Benzo Benzo 15 May 2012

    Comment deleted????
    “Perhaps the time has come for a third way: a democratic platform that caters for South Africans, whether they support the ANC or the DA; a movement à la UDF; a platform where young people in particular can voice their views on important issues, separate from the political baggage which constantly forces us into corners, either gagged, or defending positions we know better than to defend. Perhaps young South Africans ought to start creating that space because, as Zille’s comments show, our current political landscape is failing to create it for us.”

    Good question!!

  10. Tofolux Tofolux 16 May 2012

    I have always maintained that when you scratch the surface with Gogo Zille, there is absolutely nothing there. Her rhetoric is tiresome, downright patronising and rude. Her lies continue unabated. If any other politician had gotten up to these óld tactics” I am sure Ramphele and our media-driven civil society would have been in and out of court fighting her constitutionally. Yet all those who point fingers at ANC condone her actions, apologise for her downright racism and defend her shamelessly. The smokescreen that DA presents is a so-called ”alternative” to the ruling party and yet despite this blind support not one of their supporters can articulate their policies. But I dont think that we should be surprised at the emergence of a party like DA or the propping up of a leader like Gogo Zille. In fact why should we be surprised and by those who support her. If we have the type of history that we have, the consequences must be what we see presented today. The question is…do we understand the material conditions on the ground? I dont think so….we are fed with the American movie romantiscm and expect this to be our reality. It isnt. Also remember that you are not just dealing with different levels of racism but also class issues. Middle-class Africans in particular are at pains to mimic the upper class and what you will eventually see is an emergence of an overclass, ie Black in particular. Sizwe, are we as Africans homogenous. No we are not especially when money…

  11. MLH MLH 16 May 2012

    It seems to me that when Julius Malema made rude, racialistic comments about various white, black, Indian and couloured individuals and when he sang that ghastly sond that was banned, the black majority made far less fuss. On a daily basis I know that I and other first-language-English speakers overlook the appalling use of our language by others who are speaking it as a second language.
    Zille is good with words in her home language. The very existence of her slightly shock usage means she’s refusing to patronise other people; she’s speaking to them as tho’ she expects them to understand what she’s getting at. Her use, for instance, of ‘KFC’ encompassed so much more.
    However, I accept that much of what she says offends those who are English-second-language speakers because their understanding is limited and I would hope that she apologises often and quickly when she does offend, plus aims to offend less in the future.
    The difficulty here being that there’s a fine line between being treated as equals and being patronised. You are asking her to err on the side of the latter and that would be considered racist by many. Do you really want her to break down everthing she says into words and phrases a Grade 0 child would understand? Think carefully before you answer…because a ‘Yes’ infers that you would prefer to be treated like children.

  12. Tofolux Tofolux 16 May 2012

    @MLH, so we must be treated as children and your ilk are constant parents. The teacher, pupil mentality. Yoh…how insulting

  13. Wildcat Wildcat 16 May 2012

    Eish Tofolux, you have just proven MLH’s point, and you aren’t even aware of it.

    At the end of the day, so much anger and offense can be avoided if people just understood each other. Having 11 languages is a major barrier in SA.

    Zille’s quick statements are largely lost in translation.

  14. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 16 May 2012

    Sterling

    The ANC has deliberately deflected all debate to be about colour and race – including on national broadcasters (radio and TV). They have been indoctrinating the blacks for years – and THIS is exactly the same as elsewhere in Africa, the only difference being they blame colonialism not apartheid.

  15. Rich Rich 17 May 2012

    @Tofolux – would you call MLH racist? I need help with my ‘blur’. This is a classic case of what I meant. I agree with what MLH says – it is logical and to the point. You however find it racist!

  16. Chris2.0 Chris2.0 17 May 2012

    @Sizwe – so 3 tweets out of around 11 000 got you up in arms?

    Zuma, Malema and the AN€ could only WISH to have a 3 wrongs out of 11 000!

    But such is life in ZA…

  17. Tofolux Tofolux 17 May 2012

    @RIch, please consult your gogo noting that you have the “monopoly” on these meanings.

  18. Rich Rich 17 May 2012

    @Tofolux – all too nebulous!
    And I apologise for putting words in your mouth. I meant to type ‘insulting’ from which I inferred racist.

  19. nguni nguni 18 May 2012

    @ MLH spot on!
    @ Tofolux thanks for showing us all that you’re just another ANC troll, pulling the racist card without understanding the issues.

  20. The Creator The Creator 18 May 2012

    Sterling Ferguson, you do realise that when Moeletsi Mbeki said that 70% of ANC voters are on social grants, he was lying? (Check the figures and it’s obvious that he was lying.)

    The reason why he deserves less public outcry than Zille, is the fact that he’s a pitiful fraud whose ignorance and mendacity is puffed up by the white-controlled media, and nobody of any consequence takes him seriously — whereas Zille is the elected leader of the second-largest political party in the country, so when she talks manipulative tosh, she’s doing so on behalf of several million people.

    Get the difference now?

  21. Tofolux Tofolux 18 May 2012

    @Nguni, can I ask you to please remember that I was educated under a tree, in a village with no electricity, water etc. Our knowledge of the queens english comes mostly from torn books and teachers who dedicated themselves to us by teaching us and believing in us, despite our challenges. Hence these things about trolls, etc is something that is not readily understood by a simple village girl like myself. But let me also say, that I would expect a good response from a person who was educated by the best trained teachers, in well-lit suburbs, with the newest books that you could write and scribble in, to your hearts content. So please, can you respond to the subject matter and let us engage in a battle of ideas?

  22. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 18 May 2012

    Tofolux

    You were educated under a tree in the Western Cape?

    Where and When?

  23. Max Max 18 May 2012

    I have tried but I fail to se the racism in using the words “educational refugees”. A lot of scholars do flee the Eastern Cape to the Western Cape to escape the educational abyss in the Eastern Cape. They want a better quality education. Therefore they may be described quite reasonably as seeking refuge as a result of educational issues. Hence educational refugees. Where is the racism? Seems to me that the word refugee has been taken out of context and milked for all all it’s worth to extract as much vitriol and projected racism as possible by those who, for their own reasons, need to use racism and vitriol.

  24. Sterling Ferguson Sterling Ferguson 18 May 2012

    @The Creator, the ANC led government has admitted that over fifty percent of the people in SA are receiving family grants and they are unemployed. Until you come up with facts to refute Moelestsi Mbeki, I will believe the Harvard man. The point I was making is this is not a racist comment regardless who made it, if it’s true. You are in denial of the high unemployment rate in SA and it’s not getting any better because this country continues to export jobs to China. If one look at the line yesterday there were a lot of blacks line up to support the DA party led by Helen and others.

  25. Sterling Ferguson Sterling Ferguson 18 May 2012

    @Beddy, the point that Tofolux miss is that there are money in the budget to build schools in the EC but, there is division in the EC how to spend it. For three years many children have been going to school under a tree because there is no agreement on how to build the schools.

  26. Tofolux Tofolux 21 May 2012

    @Lien”all, Sterling & et al, are you able to respect the author and respond to his submission? Stick to the subject and stop this diverting tactics..its so yesterday.

  27. Rich Rich 21 May 2012

    @Creator

    17.5 million on social grants by 2015!
    Moeletsi just might be right…

  28. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 21 May 2012

    Tofolux

    You said that you were educated under a tree with no electricity or running water.

    You also said previously that you lived in the Western Cape, and if I remember correctly that you were coloured.

    So I repeat my question –

    Where and when were you educated in the Western Cape under a tree?

    Although I might point out that the Voortrekker pioneers and the American pioneers also had to educate their children under trees, and also had no running water or electricity – and no schools or teachers either.

  29. Tofolux Tofolux 21 May 2012

    @Liendie? Oh Pray tell, what is a coloured? And do you think that the Western Cape comprises of the coast line only?

  30. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 21 May 2012

    Tofolux

    You said you were coloured, not me – and coloured means mixed slave/white in America, but descended from Khoisan or Malays in SA.

    Please answer the question.

  31. Sterling Ferguson Sterling Ferguson 21 May 2012

    @Rich, the SA government will not be able to sustain these family grants for over half of the population. SA will become another Greece or Argentina with Peron with all of these people sitting home getting grants. To make matter worst, SA has given the governments workers all kind of contracts with fringe benefits that this country can’t afford. The pensions system will cost SA billion of rands and with nobody working how will the pensions be financed? The same thing is happening in the US and many states are changing their pension system because they can’t afford them. The health minister wants to give everyone free medical care and the defense minister wants to give all the soldiers free houses however, nobody knows where the money will come from to pay for these programs. Moesetsi Mbeki is right to point out the failure of the ANC led government economic policies.

  32. Tofolux Tofolux 22 May 2012

    @Liendie, I think you are very confused, I also think that it suits your thinking that you would arrogate yourself a position to use a racial classification against me. Suit yourself, I am not responsible for the racist classifications you hold onto. However you may try and explain a classification. it is not recognised in our democracy. Our constitution has done away with these classifications, in fact since 1994 no newborn has been racially classified. So 15 years into democracy, one wonders how you would allocate this demeaning classifications noting that your apartheid govt was reduced to using a pencil test. But I guess, it clearly proves the point that Sizwe makes in this article that being the continuous racist slur’s against the background of our Madiba legacy. It proves the point that despite how you talk, you still walk the line as depicted by the Zille’s of South Africa, It proves the point that you have not accepted your responsibility as the constitution demands in building a non-racist, non sexist South Africa. Shame on you.

  33. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 22 May 2012

    Tofolux

    I don’t believe you live in the Western Cape at all.

    the whole AA/BEE policy, which is highly detrimental to the coloureds, is based exactly on their being classified as coloured by the ANC and therefore as inferior to blacks on the BEE scorecard.

    For instance my brother was told by the Somerset West Municipality that his coloured partner did not classify as BEE because he was coloured and not black..

    A close friend, a coloured woman doctor who is internationally recognised as an expert in her field, was told by the Board of Grote Schuur Hospital that she did not qualify for a post as she is coloured and female, and the post was only open to black men.

  34. Tofolux Tofolux 22 May 2012

    @Liendie, it was agreed by Codesa that the only time classification would be used was in terms of redress when it came to AA/BEE. This is in the constitution and the preamble to that section of the law. Now I am surprised that you havent googled this information and that you havent cut-n-paste this. But sure, believe what you want. Second hand or hearsay has never interested me. Also this is the last time I entertain you with fact simply because the truth has yet to set you free.

  35. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 22 May 2012

    Tofolux

    What was agreed at Codesa was upheld by the High Court, and over-ruled by the First Constitutional Court.

    I have explained all this before.

    And you still have not answered the question – where and when were you educated under a tree in the Western Cape?

  36. Mncedisi Mncedisi 2 July 2012

    Truth hurts… People you can not compare Mbeki and Zille or with Jimmy Manyi. This article is about Madam Zille so how about keeping it @ that? Nice article my boet there is definatly light @ the end of the tunnel with ur Generation.

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