Zille tweets ‘black privilege’ and DA stays mum

The Democratic Alliance (DA) leadership seems to be passing the hot potato that is Western Cape Premier Helen Zille.

Following Zille’s latest controversial tweet, the official opposition is yet to respond despite an uproar on social media.

Mabine Seabe, the party’s national director of communications asked the Mail & Guardian to speak to James Selfe or Solly Malatsi. Malatsi, the party’s national spokesperson in turn said to speak to DA chairperson Athol Trollip.

Selfe, the chairperson of the DA’s federal council, told the M&G that following several complaints by members of the party, the matter has been referred to the federal legal commission for investigation. 

The party is yet to take an official position nor address the latest Twitter furore over its former leader’s tweets.

According to Zille, ‘black privilege’ is “being able to loot a country and steal hundreds of billions and get re-elected…”

The sequence of events which led to this assertion and began with Zille responding to a video of an American writer and poet, Kyla J Lacey, talking about the existence of white privilege. The video, which is in English, was posted by Twatterbaas who described it as an outburst which sounded like a hatred of white people. Lacey’s video begins begins with the words: “We learned your French, we learned your English, we learned your Spanish, we learned your Dutch, your Portuguese, your German. You learned our nothing and called us stupid.”

To Twatterbaas, Zille responded, “Why is she saying this stuff in English,” leading to various commentators on the social media platform, including former public Protector Thuli Madonsela, responding to Zille on a variety of subjects including colonialism, language repression and cultural imperialism.

But it was an unrelated Twitter exchange between actor Hlomla Dandala and other twitter users to which Zille responded, which courted Twitter users’ wrath. Unbidden, Zille responded to a tweet by Dandala with a claim of the existence of black privilege.

This is not the first time Zille has faced backlash for her tweets.

After a trip to Singapore in 2017, Zille took to Twitter to express how colonialism had helped the southeast Asian nation prosper, detailing how the legacy of colonialism on South Africa had been positive.

“What a revelation Singapore has been. I can see why it prospers. Ppl understand the past but work in the present and plan for the future,” she tweeted.

“For those claiming legacy of colonialism was ONLY negative, think of our independent judiciary, transport infrastructure, piped water etc,” she said in response to South African critics.

Her party, the Democratic Alliance, attempted to discipline her but that process was eventually abandoned after Zille agreed to apologise for the tweets and not participate in party activities.

In June 2018, Public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane found Zille to be in violation of the Constitution and “divided society on racial grounds” because of her tweets on colonialism.

Later that year however, Zille waded in on the Life Esidimeni tragedy, tweeting: “It is good that the families of the Life Esidimeni victims have received a measure of justice and compensation. I would like an answer to this question: What did they do, before these tragic deaths, to raise the alarm about their loved ones starving + living in profound neglect?”

Section 27, which represented 63 families affected by the scandal, described Zille’s comments as regrettable, saying that the premier’s question was answered at length through testimonies during the arbitration process as well as through personal stories reported on by the media.

Weeks before the May 8 polls, there had been suggestions been that Zille had been sidelined from party activities ever since social media storms erupted as a result of her unchecked tweets. In April, she again tweeted that colonialism wasn’t all bad.

At the time of publishing, the DA had yet to formally address the latest tweets.

This is a developing story and will be updated as more details emerge.

Kiri Rupiah
Kiri Rupiah is the online editor at the Mail & Guardian.
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