Ralph Mathekga

Helen Zille's great miscalculation

2017-06-12 08:26
Helen Zille (Gallo Images)

Helen Zille (Gallo Images)

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Western Cape Premier Hellen Zille appears to have had a calmer weekend. At least she hasn’t tweeted anything that questions the decision of her party bosses to suspend her from all activities of the party.

Zille has been quite recalcitrant since her controversial tweet seeking to defend the legacy of colonialism. This is an unwinnable situation she got herself into: no one can successfully put a perspective on defending colonialism, period!

Zille’s remarks after the tweet were pre-emptive. After her initial tweets on colonialism and its contribution to Singapore’s success, she was aware that she might face disciplinary action from her party. Because of this possibility, she craftily attempted to build a scholastic case to then say that we are where we are also because of some innovations that came with colonialism.

Even slavery has had a cultural exchange between the subject and the master. However, there is no justification in saying that not everything about slavery was bad. This is just untenable and Zille should have known that she is headed for a dead end on this one. 

Instead she has dared her party leaders to have to either go after her, or look lame and indecisive.

Had she taken a less aggressive stance after her initial offensive tweets, she might have gotten away with it. But her willingness to further defend her position played right into the DA having to show that the party is sensitive to the pain that was suffered by majority of black people in this country.

As Zille pressed on rubbing salt in the colonial wound, the DA was equally pushed to have to show sympathy for the majority of black people who suffered under colonialism. Zille has pushed her own party to have to choose between her and common sense.

The DA seems to have opted for a path to isolate itself from Zille and her ideas regarding the positive contributions of colonialism towards human civilisation.

The challenge is that Zille seems willing to go as far as dividing her party and the nation so long as she finds people to stand with her. She will not go without a fight because she believes that her positive contribution towards the anti-apartheid movement has earned her the right to offend victims of colonialism.

After all, isn’t corruption the new super issue in our country, to a point where even the positives of colonialism are beginning to emerge?

This has been Zille’s hubris; a gross miscalculation by many to the effect that the higher levels of corruption perpetrated by the black political elites simply mean that race is no longer a factor in understanding the power relations in our society. If black people could be as corrupt as they are; then we can go back and put the entire colonialism debate into perspective. Thus, in the greater scheme of things, colonialism was a big misunderstanding.

This is a great miscalculation; race still matters and it will as long as it should. Helen Zille should have known this.

The freedom of speech crusade Zille has undertaken to defend herself on the tweets shows further that she is not aware that a liberal value such as freedom of speech does not supersede the historical pain of colonialism, particularly when liberal democracy itself shows deficiencies in addressing the historical legacy of colonialism.

Inequalities continue to ravage our society despite having been in a democracy for over 20 years. Even worse is that inequality is defined along racial lines. In this context, any defense of colonialism would simply come across as a defense of white privilege irrespective of how corrupt the political elites of the day might be.

As someone who often comes across as a reader of history, Zille should have known that it is not the future that is contentious, it is the past and colonialism is one such past.

- Ralph Mathekga is an independent political analyst and author of the book When Zuma Goes. He writes a weekly column for News24.

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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