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Max du Preez recently wrote an open letter to Helen Zille regarding the tweets she made acknowledging colonialism has not had strictly bad consequences, and which landed her in trouble with the Democratic Alliance. His letter, titled “Dear Helen, please call it off”, however, has some significant instances of intellectual dishonesty. I will only speak to some of those instances here, and recommend you read Gwen Ngwenya’s brilliant analysis of Du Preez’s letter as well.

“The fact that you felt you had to make this obvious point on Twitter suggests that you meant something else, something more.”

Du Preez is not putting words in Zille’s mouth – he’s putting thoughts in her head. While most reasonable individuals agree on the “obvious point” that colonialism did not one-dimensionally yield a negative legacy for South Africa, the outrage to Zille’s tweet suggests that there is a notable segment of the population who disagree. Du Preez himself writes that it should have been clear to Zille that the tweet would be offensive. Why he decides to imply racism or some other kind of silly bigotry here is unclear, and unethical.

“Instead of quickly stating that your first tweet was a mistake and you were sorry about it when you saw the initial reactions…”

He does not mention against which standard the ‘mistake-worthiness’ of Zille’s tweet is being measured. Does Du Preez mean to say that when someone is insulted (“the initial reactions”), an apology should, by default, be extended? I struggle to believe that someone as intelligent as Du Preez would endorse such a dangerous level of relativism. I have, in the past, felt insulted by Du Preez’ articles, after all, and I know of others who found them equally offensive. Would it be reasonable for us to expect an apology from Du Preez? Zille’s public figure status, mind you, does not change the principle at play here. The truth is not only true if it is said by someone with a low profile.

“You have single-handedly made sure that the party you helped build [could not appeal to more South Africans opposing the ANC].”

Du Preez uses the word “single-handedly” incorrectly here. It takes, at least, two to tango. Maimane is not at all innocent in this saga, as he played the principal role in making a national controversy out of what can at most be described as a silly tweet on a silly platform which does not allow more than 140 characters.

“Mmusi Maimane should have been [standing against corruption by the ANC]. Instead your conduct undermined him…”

Surely, Du Preez cannot be endorsing what seems to be despot-level personality politics?

Are individual Democratic Alliance members – and the premier of a province – not at liberty to have their own political profiles, styles, and opinions? Is the DA this centralized that the pettiest and most innocent remark by a DA-affiliate can now be construed as “undermining” the party leader and thus be actionable?

Does Du Preez imply that the DA is such an immature party that it cannot afford to allow members their own identities? If this is true, the DA does not offer an alternative to the ANC.

This would be extremely worrying, but Du Preez says it, like much of the rest of the letter, without further ado. He appears to be riding the wave of anti-Zille sentiment rather than trying to construct considered arguments against the many imperfections that comprehend Helen Zille. He can do better – this is just petty.

  • I still believe that Helen Zille made two very telling mistakes with her series of tweets on colonialism.

    Firstly, she made the mistake of not acknowledging (to herself at least) that political truth, lies and scandalous statements are not defined by historical, current, scientific or legal fact, but by majority perception. Thus in the political climate created by the fallists, Malema’s calls for land grabs and the ANC-Gupta-Bell-Pottinger recreated specter of white monopoly capital, such a statement was always bound to have a negative impact and as a party looking to grab a larger share of the “black vote” the DA has no choice but to buy into that perception for the moment, hence the reactions from inside the party (even if I do think that Maimane made some mistakes of his own). A sad commentary (perhaps) that totally goes against my own libertarian and constitutional (like free speech) values, but I like to think that I am intelligent enough to realize that I am not setting the rules here and that the definition of the current political playing field is bound to change as the general socio-economic circumstances change.

    The second mistake she made, especially given the climate I mentioned, is that she made a statement in stead of merely asking a series of questions. Had she done the latter, she would probably faced some backlash from the twitter-trolls and the McKaisers of this world, but that would have been that and we would have sat here talking about the (de-)merits of her questions in stead of commenting about how “racist” she is and the manner in which the DA is handling the situation. Very poor judgment on her part, I must say and as for Max himself. the less said about the apparent pliability of his liberalism and values the better in my opinion

    • Harald Sitta

      it is about political and cultural hegemony and that swamp can only be attacked with bold actions. BUT we have to coordinate, network, make coalitions, ..HZ error was to act as a single warrior!

      • Granted, in fact, I hadn’t relly considered that aspect

      • Steven van Staden

        Yes indeed, but the error was the DA’s – not Helen Zille’s; the DA should have been making these points instead of pandering to the pathetic race mongering of the anti-White brigade. Malema says the DA is tip-toeing around the Zille issue, but in reality the DA is tip-toeing around the reverse racism that has manufactured the Zille issue. No one expects Zuma to resign or apologise for his Bell-Pottinger-Gupta-ANC campaign vilifying and threatening ‘murderous colonialists, White monopoly capital’ etc., or Malema for his thinly veiled threats against White South Africans (“visitors”). The ANC and EFF would laugh at the suggestion.The racial double standards prevailing here are intolerable. Why is the DA silent on this serious, major issue?

  • Gillian Benade

    We would do well to learn the lesson of the cukoo, a bird that does not build its own nest but rather lays its egg in another birds nest. Once hatched the cukoo pushes the other eggs out of the nest, and the mother bird raises it. Helen just fly away, the cukoos have taken over your nest!

  • Steven van Staden

    Max du Preeze charges, “The fact that you felt you had to make this obvious point on twitter suggests that you meant something else, something more.” As Martin van Staden points out, that is not a fact. The fact is that while the point of the Zille tweets does not need making for reasonable, educated people, it has not occurred to many gullible people who are being influenced by the inexorable wave of propaganda put out by the EFF-Cosatu-Black Businessmen’s Council-ANC-Gupta-Bell/Pottinger spokespeople, conveying the message: Colonialists are White people, past and present, who have stolen everything they possess from Black people and given nothing back, and that the failing state of South Africa is not the doing of the majority-rule government or its supporters, but of White colonialists, so feel free to take what you will from them. If Max du Preeze recognises that there is a need to counter this racist incitement against White South Africans, it would be constructive of him to educate us on how to make the point while avoiding manufactured outrage based on misrepresentations of statements of reason and fact in the defense.

    I think Martin van Staden (no relation; we haven’t met) has questioned the Du Preeze comments constructively. I’d like to underline his point about the DA’s hypersensitivity to the distortions of these tweets. What kind of party will disallow its leaders to state a fact? The tweets were an inconvenient truth that in the present corrupt political discourse were latched onto and twisted out of their intended constructive meaning, not only by the ANC and its cohorts but by Mr Maimane and other DA members. Racism is being attributed to the Zille tweets, but in fact it is in the reaction to them. There is surely no doubt that most of the outrage is based on distortions of the tweets. Very few commentators deny the veracity of the message. What this amounts to is a breech of DA members’ right to freedom of speech. Remember that Mr Maimane came out tweeting in favour of the so-called Hate Speech Bill. That was an ominous sign.

    If we cannot premise our hoped-for progress out of our present retrograde and racist mentality on truth, lest it is unpalatable to some, or liable to twisting, then it is very difficult to imagine the premise on which Mr Maimane hopes to build a better future for all.

  • Mo Haarhoff

    I cannot help wondering whether Miamane is calling someone else’s tune…someone he may have agreed to enter into a coalition with. There are two obvious possibles, both of which SA does not need and neither of which gel with DA policy. The DA has become a vastly different animal under his leadership, one I, and several others, cannot like.

    • Onedtent

      Maimane has publicly stated that he would go into a coalition government.

  • Harald Sitta

    a riff-Raff priest of the anti-col/imp/rac/cap cult has spoken… The scourge of ZA are professional politicians and all these nihilist journos. And I hate Boere-Bolshies !!!!