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Twitter: The Politician's Guillotine


Authors Note

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, Premier. Western Cape, South Africa (2009-?)

Helen Zille, Premier. Western Cape, South Africa (2009-?)

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.”

Mmusi Maimane, Leader of the DA since 2015

Mmusi Maimane, Leader of the DA since 2015

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.

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“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

Helen Zille

Helen Zille

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.

Owfma-SA (Ordinary White Female Middle-aged South African)

Owfma-SA (Ordinary White Female Middle-aged South African)

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.


Martie Coetser (author) from South Africa on April 01, 2017:

AliciaC – I honestly hope that the DA will not ask her to step down just to prove their party’s anti-colonial sentiments. She can still do a lot to improve at least the lives of people in the Western Cape Province – the best province in the country. Or perhaps it is the right time for her to go. If only we could have a glimpse into the future.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on March 28, 2017:

It sounds like Helen Zille did some good things in her younger years. It's a shame that she made the controversial tweets. Personally, I can see why they could be viewed as both offensive and inappropriate. Thanks once again for keeping us up to date about the political scene in South Africa, Martie.

Martie Coetser (author) from South Africa on March 27, 2017:

MsDora – Writing helps me to come to terms with reality. Yes, Helen will go down in history as a woman who has moved SA a couple of steps forward in the right direction.

Martie Coetser (author) from South Africa on March 27, 2017:

FlourishAnyway – For effective online communication I prefer and recommend Facebook, and especially Facebook ‘notes’ for those who have a lot to say, as it has no restrictions. Twitter is like flash fiction – to be interpreted – and you know interpretations are prompted by individual perspectives and perceptions. I also think Twitter is a perfect medium for sharing links to reports/articles and blogs. At present Twitter seems to be a place where people f@rt just to hear what kind of reaction they get – a playground for the childish, pestering teenager.

Martie Coetser (author) from South Africa on March 27, 2017:

kallini2010 – The people of SA are indeed blinded by anger. They are angry about so many things – the list is as long as my arm. When I contemplate SA’s history, I tend to believe that South Africans were always angry, since the very beginning. This beautiful country is built on anger. So it seems to be.

We thought that Nelson Mandela was the person who has quelled all anger. Sadly, the lefts and the rights and the youth do not agree. They all believe that war, instead of Mandela, was/is the right thing to happen. Ignorant, primitive fools! They may get what they wish for.

Svetlana, your comment is extremely profound and worthy to debate. I wish I could respond to all your statements/ideas/thoughts. Thank you so much, and also for your best wishes.

Martie Coetser (author) from South Africa on March 27, 2017:

fpherj48 – Thank you so much for you compliment. It’s a precious award and inspiration in one.

Because you are not a citizen of SA, your opinions about an issue are objective, and therefore precious.

Political correctness is a spoof. It compels people to be dishonest, hypocritical, and false. It reminds me of ‘decent Christians’ having tea after the Sunday worship, pretending to like/love each other, but in fact they are each other’s opposition in business and/or politics.

Oh, we do need politicians, fpherj – or whatever we may call representatives in a legislature or managerial body. Sadly, once they are elected, they forget their purpose and become self-centred, selfish and greedy.

I also use twitter most of the time exclusively to share my hubs. Only now and then I utter a scream of frustration about one or another talk-of-the-day. In vain, of course. Shouting in Twitter is like f@rting against thunder. If you are not Somebody, nobody hears you, or take notice of you.

Thank you so much for reading and commenting, dear Paula.

Martie Coetser (author) from South Africa on March 27, 2017:

always exploring – I think Trump was suffering a sleep disorder, and perhaps he is now taking some sleeping pills. Politicians, especially ministers and the president should share their thoughts and ideas in parliament and with the media, and not on Twitter. Racism is up and about in SA, Rubi. Mutual hate between black and white is obvious and scary.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on March 27, 2017:

Seems like there is hardly a place for personal opinions. I hope that Helen Zile will be remembered more for all the good contributions she has made, rather than the few times her tweets offended some. Martie, you sure have a lot to write about; hope that helps you clear your head.

FlourishAnyway from USA on March 26, 2017:

Twitter is really death in 140 characters. People stupidly fire off messages that cannot be explained easily, taken back, or given proper context. They don't think about the impact of what they write, particularly others' perceptions. Trump is our example. The man is a boob who just Tweets whatever enters his thoughts. No filter.

While sometimes how someone meant something is not how it comes across, it's important to wonder if saying something in Twitter's 140 characters or less is the appropriate medium. Typically it's not.

kallini2010 from Toronto, Canada on March 26, 2017:

Trying to be objective: since I don't know most of it or rather I know absolutely nothing, I am not emotionally invested one way or the other.

What I see is a LOT of anger.

It's not about right-right-right-at the right-by the right...

I believe there is no understanding of the situation. One needs time and distance to have perspective. The "right" person will be the one who will be able to quell all the anger or to maneuver through it and somehow survive it. Twitter or not - politicians are exposed - anything they say will be used against them.

It's n0t a discussion of reason and your hasty response and your later withdrawal shows just that. Nobody can convince anybody of anything.

The issue is different. People are hurting for many reasons and when people in pain they don't behave the way they could and would have if they were at peace.

I believe the issue at hand is not justice, it's compassion and that's a tall order when everybody hates someone for all the wrongs that were done.

What I see in Helene: she is an extraordinary woman, that is without a doubt, but don't you think that her way of thinking did not change much? If she was against the majority during apartheid, when she was after justice and reason, now she is doing the same thing - justice and reason, but the situation is no longer the same.

I may be wrong. In the long run, people/politicians/whoever it might be - people who will survive are the ones who can adapt and adapt QUICKLY. It's not survival of the best, it is the survival of those the fastest thinkers-doers. By the way, nobody survives at the top - to survive you blend with the majority.

So, fingers crossed - I wish your country political stability.

P.S. While my country (Russia) entered the center stage and I have no idea what happens behind and under that veneer of peace and prosperity.

My best wishes for you,

Suzie from Carson City on March 26, 2017:

Martie. You write so well I hate to see your hubs end. I could read you all day.

I was relieved to see that you are a fan of Helen's....because I honestly saw nothing terribly offensive in her words. Then again, I am not terribly knowledgeable on S.A. politics, save the interesting stories you provide us from time to time.

I won't even get into Political Correctness.....the term alone, infuriates me. It's nothing more or less than a damned curse (idiotic notion) that some moron came up with during a moment of hallucination! Enough said.

I wonder, Martie....what wonderful, enjoyable, unifying activities could fill our spare time if we could just take all politicians on a ride & drop them off in space somewhere? Sounds to me like we may even have a paradise....ya think?

I use twitter exclusively for my HP work. I don't actually communicate via twitter.....and frankly, politicians should not be TWEETING comments at all!! Period the end. Thanks once again for the "news" from your beautiful country!.. Hugs, Paula

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on March 26, 2017:

I was never interested in tweeting until Trump started, now I wonder how many drinks he's had at 2-3 AM? I'm sure he's been advised to stop because he rarely tweets these days. It sounds like the race problem is alive and well in SA. I admire any woman who tries to improve conditions in her country by serving, black or white. It shouldn't matter.

Martie Coetser (author) from South Africa on March 26, 2017:

WillStarr - I have noticed how often 'politically correct' is a synonym of 'blatant lying'. This is a global issue!

WillStarr from Phoenix, Arizona on March 26, 2017:

The Tweeting itself was not her downfall. She told the truth and in today's politically correct world, that is unforgivable.

Martie Coetser (author) from South Africa on March 26, 2017:

marcoujor – “…. a tweet in a cannon…” – gives wings to my imagination. Helen’s achievements are truly remarkable. Awesome opportunities presented themselves to her, and she has grabbed the best. I hope she will also grab this opportunity to retire without losing her dignity. By the way, I know what it’s like to dig one’s own grave AND to resurrect again in order to start a brand new life. It hurts (tremendously) to be booted into the grave you have dug for yourself, but time heals all wounds.

Martie Coetser (author) from South Africa on March 26, 2017:

mckbirdbks – Indeed, the distinct psyches of nations are most certainly a reality and a very interesting topic. The differences are so obviously between Americans, British, Africans, French, Chinese, Indians, Arabs, Jews, Australians, etc. Psyches expose themselves very clearly in the history of respective nations. But I am afraid, being white in SA I would be hanged, drawn and quartered if I dare say that there is a difference between the psyches of the people in SA. Even when I stress that no difference justifies racism, supremacism, inequality and discrimination. An inferiority complex - the sense of personal inferiority arising from conflict between the desire to be noticed and the fear of being humiliated – is so much stronger than common sense.

Martie Coetser (author) from South Africa on March 26, 2017:

Shyron E Shenko –

Announcing the beginning and end of a day

should be done with a million tweets;

Any other announcements

belong in the book of faces.

(My personal opinion.)

Maria Jordan from Jeffersonville PA on March 26, 2017:

As I read this, I think of 'until you have walked a mile in my shoes'...

It appears Helen has done amazing good in her career / life. I believe in this case she put her foot in her mouth (or a tweet in a cannon).

I join you in hoping "that whatever the DA decides to do with Helen Zille will work out for the best".

Wishing you a peaceful Sunday. Love, mar

mckbirdbks from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas on March 26, 2017:

Hello Martie - Hatred spreads to all corners of the globe. We all perish in the holes we dig for ourselves as people, as nations. Your reporting of the situation in SA makes me wonder how and who is behind the overwhelming atmosphere of deep distrust, animosity, and that digs at the scared psyche of nations.

Shyron E Shenko from Texas on March 26, 2017:

The tweeting of a bird,

is the only tweet that should be heard

Any thing more than that

Could surely get one axed



You Dear Martie are a fantastic author and artist.

Blessings and hugs to you and Helen

Martie Coetser (author) from South Africa on March 26, 2017:

Bill Holland - I’ve taken a minute to enjoy the nice chuckle prompted by your comment.

I honestly don’t think Twitter has the capacity to accommodate any politicians’ thoughts and ideas. Twitter is like a fire, and all tweets are like oil. The tweets of high-profile people and politicians are like petrol. Politicians should stick to columns where they can justify their statements effectively. But then even columns provoke outrage.

Perhaps politicians should just shut the hell up and do what they’re supposed to do: Serve the public to the best of their ability while keeping their thoughts to themselves. Like Gauta Komano said, boldness belongs in academia, not in competitive politics.

I did notice the ‘absence’ of your president in my Twitter feed. Perhaps his doctor convinced him to take a sleeping pill every evening at 9pm.

Thanks for the chuckle :)

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on March 26, 2017:

Meanwhile, back at home, Trump has been a bit quieter on Twitter of late. Evidently someone finally convinced him to shut the hell up, which disappoints me, quite frankly, because he kept digging a deeper hole for himself on Twitter, and I want this nightmare to end quickly. :)

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