Mkhwebane: Zille must be held to account for colonialism tweet

(Adrian de Kock/Netwerk24)

(Adrian de Kock/Netwerk24)

Public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane has found that Western Cape Premier Helen Zille has violated the Constitution and “divided society on racial grounds” because of her tweets on colonialism.

Mkhwebane, who could be a facing a probe by Parliament for her fitness to hold office, further directed in her remedial action that the Western Cape legislature should “hold the Premier to account” for her transgression. She released these findings at a press conference on Monday.

In March 2017, Zille tweeted that colonialism was not “only negative” and went on to tweet how colonialism had, in her opinion, benefited South Africa. Public outrage ignited and Zille was forced to apologise after the Democratic Alliance federal executive found her guilty for violating the party’s social media rules.

On July 7 2017, ANC member of the Western Cape legislature Khaya Magaxa filed a complaint with the public protector against Zille for the tweet. Magaxa said that Zille had infringed on the legislature’s Ethics’ Code, and Mkhwebane found in his favour. Zille had submitted a response to the public protector during the investigation.

“The Premier felt it was her right to tweet like that because in terms of the Constitution she has freedom of expression. That was her view - that there is nothing wrong which she has done,” Mkhwebane said.

In response to the investigation, Mkhwebane said that Zille had told her that her findings amount to an “arbitrary and irrational decision” that will “not withstand judicial review”. Zille and the DA have been under pressure, because the Premier has continued to make reference to colonialism being positive, most recently with regard to piped water during Cape Town’s drought. The party has threatened to charge for the continued offense, but Zille remains untouched.

Mkhwebane has already sent her remedial action to the speaker of the legislature. If Zille does take the report on judicial review, she will join the likes of Absa and the Democratic Alliance, who have taken separate reports released by Mkhwebane’s office on review. In total, Mkhwebane has spent at least R15-million defending reports that have been taken on review.

Mkhwebane has been under scrutiny for her performance as public protector and her ability to maintain her independence from political interference. Parliament is considering an inquiry into her fitness to hold office. The matter was meant to be discussed last week, but instead MPs were angered when Mkhwebane failed to attend the meeting with an excuse that there was a family emergency that required her attention.

MPs now expect Mkhwebane to be present in Parliament this week.

Ra'eesa Pather

Ra'eesa Pather

Ra’eesa Pather is a general news journalist with the Mail & Guardian’s online team. She cut her teeth at The Daily Vox in Cape Town before moving to Johannesburg and joining the M&G. She's written about memory, race and gender in columns and features, and has dabbled in photography. Read more from Ra'eesa Pather

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