Guest Column

Zindzi Mandela is no victim. She can and should do better

2019-06-21 06:00
Zindzi Mandela (File)

Zindzi Mandela (File)

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Zindzi Mandela's tweets are not only prejudicial against sections of the population but are also tantamount to the repudiation of important tenets of the Constitution and against the grain of the Freedom Charter, writes Mavuso Msimang.

On Friday, 14 June 2019 Her Excellency, Ms Zindzi Mandela, South African Ambassador to Denmark, released a distinctly undiplomatic tweet that instantly went viral. It precipitated a deluge of comments, many of which supported her take on South Africa's emotive land-ownership debate.

"Dear Apartheid Apologist," said Mandela, "your time is over, you will not rule again. We do not fear you. Finally, #TheLandIsOurs." She went further and made reference to "white cowards and shivering land thieves".

For three days there was agonising silence from the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco). Minister Naledi Pandor eventually materialised and told the nation that her office was "currently trying to find out exactly what the source of those tweets are and what occasioned the need to respond in the way the Ambassador has done".

Explaining that Dirco has a social media policy, the minister emphasised that it was "absolutely imperative that all diplomats observe the policy". And then: "Once we have established whether this is genuinely a tweet or set of remarks from her, we will be able to assess whether the comments are in compliance with our social media policy."

This begs the question as to what the essence of the ambassador's offence was: a breach of the department's social media policy or the egregious violation of the Constitution of South Africa? It is no doubt the latter.

As ambassador, Mandela is in reality the representative in Denmark of the president of South Africa and of the entirety of its people. Her utterances are not only prejudicial against certain sections of the population but are also tantamount to the repudiation of important tenets of the Constitution. They are against the grain of the Freedom Charter, a document drawn up by, among other patriots, the ambassador's father, Nelson Mandela, South Africa's preeminent freedom fighter and statesman; who spent 27 years in gaol for his unflinching commitment to the liberation of South Africa and for his unwavering commitment to non-racism, non-sexism and universal human rights.

The preamble of the Freedom Charter reads, in part:

"We, the People of South Africa, declare for all our country and the world to know: that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and that no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of the people; that our people have been robbed of their birthright to land, liberty and peace…"

It is somewhat puzzling that some of the people who endorse Zindzi Mandela's tweets are members of the African National Congress and the Economic Freedom Fighters, both organisations that profess to embrace the principles of both the Freedom Charter and the Constitution of South Africa. There can be no ambiguity on the position of these anchor documents on issues of human and citizen rights, such is the clarity of their word and intent.

When Zindzi Mandela refers to "white cowards and shivering land thieves" as a collective, she is indulging in hate speech, namely, using "abusive or threatening speech or writing that expresses prejudice against a particular group, especially on the basis of race, religion or sexual orientation".

Conquest and or theft of other people's land by a particular set of forbears, as happened in South Africa, cannot and must not render their progeny objects of abuse. The Constitution of the country specifically proscribes it and makes the offence criminally punishable. Hate speech, from whatever quarter, violates the spirit and letter of Constitution. The unrepentant Vicki Momberg, who in 2016 unleashed a tirade of insults and repeatedly called police who sought to help her with the "kaffirs", could dispense some advice on what might happen to offenders who engage in such an offence. She received a three-year prison sentence.

Zindzi Mandela is also operating in space that is not dissimilar to that of Adam Catzavelos, who last year took a holiday in Greece and released a video in which he told all and sundry that he was enjoying "blue skies, beautiful day, amazing sea and not one 'kaffir' in sight…"  

Her invective is also not dissimilar to Julius Malema's reference in a 2018 speech, to South Africans of Indian heritage as "worse than Afrikaners", a slur that is upsetting to members of both race groups. Or, when he recently said in response to a request for a meeting with the South African National Editors' Forum, that he would be prepared to meet them on condition they didn't "bring (a) racist thing like this white young boy called Adriaan Basson".

There can be no underestimating the psychological harm caused by the atrocious treatment of the apartheid regime to her entire family. However, Mandela should not behave like a victim. She is definitely capable of doing better than that. Mind you, she is fully entitled to her views on vexing issues like land reform, as long as she expresses them in appropriate places and in a manner not in conflict with the law.

People in public office, especially politicians, have a crucial responsibility to ensure that cohesion prevails in society. This they can do without conceding an iota of their philosophical convictions.

- Mavuso Msimang is a former member of the High Command of Umkhonto we Sizwe, former CEO of SANParks, former Chief Executive of KZN Tourism, and a former non-executive Director of Robben Island. He is also a former Director General of the Department of Home Affairs.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. 

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