Let's Think

Zille was wrong, but proved a point

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Western Cape premier Helen Zille made an awful mistake last week with her reference to colonialism in a string of tweets, but did prove a point, although not the one she intended.

The point she apparently wanted to make, and which is not without merit, and probably worthy of serious debate, is that “South Africa can learn much from Singapore, colonised for as long as SA, and under brutal occupation in WW2. Can we apply the lessons in our democracy,” she asked?

However, the point got lost and, things went horribly wrong when she tried to make it in a string of seven twitter postings.

The longest one of 27 words – the last one – for the second time in the string, looked like defending elements of colonialism.

The whole string of seven tweets, when one read them all together, do give a hint at what she really tried to say – we think – but the whole string in total consist of only 151 words.

That is simply not enough words for a full perspective on such an emotional, sensitive and complicated subject. Helen should have known better.

Personal disclosure

Let me first make a personal disclosure, before I continue with my argument: I regard myself as a friend of Helen, whom I got to know for the first time more than three decades ago when we were both reporting (for competing newspapers) on the early processes in Namibia – then still South West Africa – in the run up to our neighbour’s independence

I would now like to give Helen some advice, also given to another friend, shortly after the Namibian Turnhalle-days when acting as a consultant to the erstwhile National Party, ex-President F.W. de Klerk: “Surround yourself with true friends and remember that a true friend is the one willing to tell you when you are making a fool of yourself.”

As a seasoned journalist and experienced politician, Helen should have known better than to tackle such a sensitive subject on a social media platform on the fly, so to speak.

The ultimate point that Helen Zille unwittingly succeeded in making, however, is that the social- and instant news media is not the place or platform to engage in serious debates, especially on sensitive subjects.

Other high ranking, important, and key public figures should be the first to learn this lesson from Helen’s experience.

We think

The reaction on social media platforms – also from within her own Democratic Alliance – to 46 words out of the twitter string of 151, was thus far overwhelmingly condemning.

However, there were also those who defended her and complained about one-sided, one-eyed over reactions of perceived racist utterance by white people.

We think the latter should remember how long it took the Afrikaner community to forgive and forget the “English” for what happened during the Anglo-Boer War, which ended in 1902. It took 59 years, until October 1961, before Alfred Trollip became the first English-speaking South African to be appointed to a NP cabinet under prime minister Hendrik Verwoerd.

By the time of writing a promised Zille response (“in the coming days”), besides her initial “unreserved” apology for “a tweet that may have come across as a defence of colonialism. It was not,” was still outstanding.

However, we think now is a good time for Helen to take early retirement. She will not only do her party the world of good, but also do us all a huge service by setting an example for all in executive power positions, including and especially at national level.

by Piet Coetzer

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