Despite some distractions by Spur losing its 2-for-1 burger special, South Africa has spent the last while sharpening their collective pitchforks, ready to roast Western Cape Premier and ex-leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA), Helen Zille. The witch hunt comes, allegedly, because of this tweet:
For those claiming legacy of colonialism was ONLY negative, think of our independent judiciary, transport infrastructure, piped water etc.
— Helen Zille (@helenzille) March 16, 2017
For those with a bare amount of common sense and historical knowledge, this tweet could easily be ignored in the chaff of Twitter. Not because of anything negative, but because of how abundantly true and unimpressive the statement is.
Of course, the legacy of colonialism brought us positive aspects! Any non-UK citizen who tries to decry such a fact in English is immediately proving my point. As myself and other commentators have had to point out – what seems like countless times – history isn’t some simple dichotomy between good and effective and evil and ineffective. Life is a lot more complicated than that. Computers found themselves developed due to war. The atom bomb ended the Second World War. The Nazis invented Fanta. Bad people can do good things. And bad things can lead to good things.
A defence of Zille’s statement is not a defence of colonialism, but of the decent things it left behind, and of an honest examination of history. Petty playing with virtual history is irrelevant. Africa was not given the opportunity to establish liberal democracy and industry by itself, but we cannot act like it would have. What we do know is that colonialism did bring these aspects to Africa – and if we wish to be intellectually honest, we must accept this fact.
Yet, this argument shouldn’t even be necessary. In no way was Zille praising or even trying to justify colonialism. She was decrying blanket condemnation of history, without respecting the nuances. She shouldn’t have to apologise just because other people wanted to misunderstand her.
Helen Zille has since defended her Tweet and viewpoint in a magnificent article discussing why Singapore succeeds while South Africa has failed. The article possesses many gems, such as:
“South Africa’s version of “transformation” — bribe-based black elite enrichment, masquerading as black economic empowerment — is an incomprehensible amalgam of racism and corruption designed to ensure economic failure.”
“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.”
The article is filled with more of these quotes, but the essence of them is found in this:
“I have always known that African racial nationalism is the central tenet of the ANC. But is it becoming the philosophy of the DA?”
And that is the crucial part of this discourse. Zille’s own party has condemned her and called her in for a disciplinary hearing.
The DA’s Witch Hunt
The DA, the apparent liberal vanguard of South Africa, is punishing one of its stalwart builders because she said something that shouldn’t offend anyone. Not only are they capitulating to the outraged Twitter mob, they are genuinely joining the witch hunt!
But for what?
The ANC has called for the DA to fire Zille from her positions. This is to be expected. The ANC has a lot to gain from Zille’s fall. She is a powerful critic of their regime and has been unshakeable for a long time. She is also a symbol of the DA, for many, despite her no longer being leader. The ANC also have no qualms about the use of historical fiction. Their rhetoric tends to revolve around blaming everything on Jan van Riebeek and their own shortcomings on other irrelevant figures and phases of South African history.
It is no surprise that the ANC has capitalised on this tweet to attack Zille, but it should come as a surprise that her own party jumped on top of her as well. One would think that the opposition would oppose the demands of their rivals.
The reason I am not surprised is that the DA is no longer the liberal vanguard of South Africa – if it ever was. In its quest for votes, it has become a soulless mass party. But this isn’t new information. The downfall of the DA’s principles has been a long time coming. The only reason that many liberals still cling on is in hope that the few genuinely liberal DA leaders (of which there are a few) will be able to regain dominance.
Politics without principle
But, you might say, it doesn’t matter that her statement was not wrong. It matters that the electorate may see it as wrong.
It is abundantly clear that the DA only cares about votes. It is no longer about the goal of a freer and prosperous South Africa. It is only about what was once only a means. Damn freedom, damn reason, damn the truth – all just for an X in a box. For this reason, it is clear why the witch hunt has been supported by Zille’s own camp.
As an editorial by Business Day stated:
“To many DA supporters, her comment that colonialism was not all bad would be regarded as forthright, but arguable. But to others and particularly most black South Africans — precisely the voters the DA wants to attract to the party — the comment is, apart from anything else, offensive, especially when delivered with a haughty, declarative, dismissive demeanour.”
It doesn’t matter that she may have been right, or that her statement wasn’t that bad at all. It matters that the DA, and much of the politically-correct media, perceives that the electorate will be foaming at the mouth at her utterances. It is not so much that the ‘black electorate’ has called for Zille’s head. It is only that her party and some media buffoons have presumed the ideals of the South African population and fabricated outrage.
The average South African doesn’t go on a rampage whenever they hear colonialism mentioned in anything but a negative manner. The majority care about facts. But when you treat an electorate like idiots, they become idiots. And this is what shapes the South African discourse.
This outrage was fabricated, as people were told that they should be offended, or at least condemn Zille for a PR blunder. But Zille did nothing wrong. Her party did. Her party, who should have stood up for the truth and reasonable discourse (as liberalism demands!), betrayed its principles yet again. They kindled the outrage. Any damage done by this episode is because of party disunity and a betrayal of principle.
But the DA won’t care about the liberal moaning. Much of its ranks no longer care — or never did — about freedom, sound policy and truth. They care about marketing and votes. In their quest to gain these votes, they will patronise the entire population. It is easier to get the votes of children than thoughtful adults – so the DA, the ANC and all other mass parties have turned politics into a purely cosmetic façade – where policy doesn’t matter. Where it is all about the makeup, the deceptive lighting and the lies.
When the DA says that Zille must be punished so as not to alienate the black electorate, they are dehumanising and patronising the voting public. They are treating them like a mindless morass, with pre-programmed opinions. They don’t care about the fact that black voters can think for themselves. So, they would rather play the ANC’s game and destroy some of the last vestiges of reason in the party.
Zille isn’t perfect. She is by no means the best liberal – or maybe even a liberal – in South Africa. But being condemned and disciplined for tweeting the truth is simply unjust. What her fate will decide is if the DA is worth any more hope that it will retain some liberality, or that it will just become a blue ANC.
Zille said it better than I can:
“The real danger is that the DA, in its quest for votes, may start to swallow every tenet, myth and shibboleth of African racial-nationalist propaganda, including the scape-goating of minorities, populist mobilisation and political patronage. Then the institutionalisation of corruption will only be a matter of time.”
And with the fall of the DA, hopefully there will be a replacement, because I know that if Zille is ousted along these grounds, I will no longer be able to put my X next to that logo.