Last week Sunday morning I woke up to a group debate on Facebook that challenged (or did it invite?) people to share their views on whether Democratic Alliance leader and Western Cape Premier Helen Zille was “still” haunted by her 20 March tweet in which she referred to pupils from Eastern Cape province seeking better education in hers as “education refugees”. To date Zille had on more than two occasions written about the incident.
Following her comments on Twitter, she first wrote a piece on 28 March headlined “Twitter storm is clouding the real issue“, followed by another one, “ The educational refugees debate“ and the third being “ Personal reflections on three weeks of ‘outrage’“. It was in these articles that Zille – who sure as heck can speak her mind and very well – explained her “education refugees”.
Besides being quoted in media reports where she tried (without any luck, it seems, or still resistance from the offended) to explain her comments, Zille also talked to me recently on this blog about her tweet. Her comments and explanation – as expected – received a lot of criticism from many black people at the time. And it is funny how Zille still endures harsh and threatening criticism messages from those who (I suspect they are mainly black) found her comments insensitive, and smacking of apartheid-like. But whether Zille’s comments were sensitive or not it all depends on each individual and his/her understanding on the context in which they comments were used. Importantly, it would serve Zille’s critics well to understand what resulted in her comments.
Understandably (or maybe not) it is because of South Africa’s discriminatory, apartheid history that many found Zille’s comments the way they did (insensitive). But it is also important to point out from the outset that from observation – and not wanting to be seen as condoning her comments – many black and the easily-offended people have come down hard on Zille mainly because she is a leader of an opposition party that is white-dominated, one who many suspect that upon becoming the next ruling party – and definately not in my lifetime – her (DA) party will take South Africa back into apartheid where blacks (as majority) will be ill-treated and seen as inferior to their white counter-parts (a minority).
Zille is further criticised because she is a white person who – to the majority (blacks) – is seen as threat or that her party is perceived to be a threat to the democracy achieved during a negotiated settlement more than 18-years ago between the apartheid ruling party, National Party led by FW De Klerk and the now ruling party, African National Congress led at the time by former president Nelson Mandela. It is at the background of this that many are very sceptical and threatened by any statements made by oppositional political parties like Zille’s DA that are white-dominated.
So while people are entitled to their opinion of what Zille meant – it is equally important, too, to make sure at all times that such criticism is fair and balance. People should avoid a situation where they incite fear and hate against others just because they differ on certain issues, if not ideologies. And this is exactly what happened this Sunday morning.
The Facebook page, Gauteng Debating League, posted this message: “Helen Zille’s refugee comment still haunts her. What are your comment? (sic)” This received a lot of response – some fair and balanced while others were uninformed and somewhat criminal. The comment followed Zille’s recent analysis last week.
What shocked me was a response my Ayanda Fire-Azania Makabane who angrily – although still not justified – saying: “She [Zille] deserves a bullet”. Makabane was supported by another commentor, Letsholo Lago Masoto, who said the former’s comment “can be appropriated wt (sic) the Madam’s [Zille’s] comment of calling our fellow [black] brothers & sisters refugees”. This despite the group administrator warning Makabane his comment was “inappropriate”.
Another commentor, Rasied Adamn, also warned. “Ayanda you are wrong,” he wrote on the group.
This obviously did not stop Tsietse ‘tsi’ Mafabatho from defending Makabane, saying the “bullet” comment was a “metaphor”. “No I think Ayanda’s comment is ‘metaphor’. She basically means the lady [Zille] deserves a crown like a bullet which is an indication that Zille killed our people, psychologically and practically,” he said.
Following Ayanda’s and Mafabatho’s comment, I then wrote the following to the group administrator(s), saying:
“It has come to my attention that some members or followers of this group have called Zille names, including that she is a killer/murderer, a “tea girl”, that she “deserves a bullet (a comment you discouraged but others persisted to justify and contexualise it and thereby perpetuating the view held by some that Zille should indeed die). This is sad, wrong and unacceptable. If Zille is to find out the killer and “deserves a bullet” comments – what do you think she will do?
Here’s my suggestion: delete these comments referred to (yes, that’s censorship, and if those who said it do not like it, tough for them – surely they can create their own pages where they can insult and incite hate and fear against other people as and when they see fit). Secondly, let those who accused Zille of being a murder/killer (Tsietsi) and that “she deserves a bullet” (Ayanda) apologise for such unacceptable comments ngoko.
As some fellow commentors have also argued – many of the commentors here (Tsie, Letsholo and Ayada, for example) have failed to take into context Zille’s commemts. Instead, they are capitalising on the negativity (perceived) of her refugee comments. Of course I am not Zille’s puppet nor his(her) spokesperson and she sure as hell can speak for herself – she always does and knows how. Two wrongs don’t make a right.
Rather than focusing on what we think of Zille’s comments – which many seem to have taken action against (see my last comment) and not wanting to be seen as dictating to you – I think you should instead focus on how we would avoid a situation as that of the Eastern Cape whereby schools are closed for whatever reason.
If you had read The Daily Dispatch newspaper reports in March and Sowetan’s of 19 January this year you would have noticed that many schools were closed. In fact each province had more than 50 schools close, with the Eastern Cape reportedly having closed or intending to close about 300 schools. Now what do your members say about that?
Now that should be our focus, rather than what we feel and think of Zille’s tweet because by doing so you are very likely to get comments like Ayanda’s, Tsietsi’s and Letsholo’s.
Hope ya’ll on this page heed to my suggestion.
Or who knows – it might be this comment of mine that might end up being deleted. I hope not.”
But my criticism drew a lot of response and counter-accusations from Makabane et al, with some accusing me of being on Zille’s camp (my emphasis).
Mampshe Klaas Malapane said “Zille must go and die somewhere in the bushes”, further implying that “people [like me who are perceived to be defending Zille] who enjoy to lick whites’s dirty boots are problem”. He talked of how I “write long English words trying to scare us, your bloody agent”, referring to my comment above addressed to the group administrator(s).
“You come here with your Garden boy mentality! Nxaaaa,” he accused me.
Njabulo Khoza, on the other hand, asked me: “Why when people were insulting Pres. J. Zuma, you never complained?” And like many who think as he – Khoza hid behind the “right to opinion” defence. Plain non-sense, I say.
But I told Khoza that I had “complained on Twitter (and not FB) of someone who did swear at me when I called to him order for swearing at Zuma. He would not stop so I stopped it at that. He was a white person, and with ya’ll being blacks I thought you’d understand. And boy was I wrong. I have further been subjected to foul language on Twitter when I defended to government from those who said it had done [nothing]. So, I have been through all of this than ya’ll can imagine. Sadly – or, well, understandably – from whites.”
Mafabatho criticised my censorship of some comments, saying the group “doesn’t have a guiding document on what one must or must say in this forum”. Like others, he also defended Makabane, claiming he has “a different understanding on what she (sic) says by bullet”, adding that “no comment would be deleted without thorough discussion [with many such people who cannot discuss issued as maturely as possible?]
“…it [was] us who are labeled (sic) and named. We are the ones who are getting offended especially by the madam. Come election time she will run to EC cape, the same refugees and she will kiss them like she did last time”, said Mafabatho.
He said “we can never let our [black] people be puppets of Madam. I don’t think she’s gonna need refugees to vote DA this time. And this time we must call for all refugees to come back home to the ANC”.
According to Malapane, Zille’s explanation was a “piece of soil” because she “insulted our people, now she keeps on insulting our intelligence with her English explanation”.
Despite criticism levelled at me, I emphasised that I was not trying to defend Zille nor claim she was wrong or right to call people refugees, but that I was against her being accused of having “killed… our [black] people, psychologically and practically”. And why “practically”, what does that mean? I asked.
“As far as I know and understand when issues are brought up there surely has to be a root cause. It is just like when you beat whoever – it will (have) be to be determined whether you were provoked or not, which might have led to your action (beating that person) hence I brought the closing of school on the equation. This, of course, is not to justify Zille’s comments at all. Like I said she sure can speak for herself”, I wrote on the group on Sunday.
I further indicated it probably was better being a refugee than told I deserve a bullet because that shows the intention to take one’s life through murder.
Brought to her attention of what Makabane said on Facebook – specifically comments that she “deserves a bullet” – Zille said she is “aware of a lot of the hate speech out there, and people are often very brave when they hide behind a computer screen”. She said when she meets her haters “face-to-face they are often extremely decent and sensible people, and we ‘find’ each other after a few moments of talking”.
“I can understand the exceptional pain of centuries of colonialism and oppression, culminating in apartheid. And I need to factor that into everything I do and say”, Zille said.
“Strangely enough, my own forebears experience is very similar to that so I think I probably have a greater capacity to understand than many people might think”.
But as a Christian – and considering this happened a few weeks before Easter while the Facebook comments happened after Easter Friday – Zille chose to respond to her critics and haters (my emphasis) with “love, compassion and understanding, particularly at this time of the Resurrection”.
And how I wish all her critics would do the same…
Editor’s Note: Because of how easily it is for people to change their names, it might be possible that people referred to in this blog have since changed their names. That
shit happens all the time with many changing their names so often as if changing their…