Helen Zille misses the point, again

2019-08-13 13:31
Helen Zille. (Getty Images)

Helen Zille. (Getty Images)

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I found Helen Zille's article as I was scrolling through the newsfeed on my phone. What I read came as no surprise at all. Of course, this is Helen Zille! Her writing skills are excellent. A literary pleasure, I must say!

In the article published on News24, on August 12, 2019, the former premier of the Western Cape, despite the well-written article, has missed the point, again. There were numerous fallacies in her arguments, many of which I struggled to find as impressive as her ability to eloquently structure her sentences.

However, I will admit that there were some elements in her arguments which I thought were quite valid, particularly the arguments related to the legal basis of Sanef's legal battles with the EFF. I couldn't help but nod at the various legal references made by her in the article. I do agree that the use of Section 10 of the Constitution, as the basis of wanting the EFF to account, is a somewhat difficult case to pursue. I would have thought that she would give Sanef and the journalists legal advice on how she was able to force the EFF to opt for an out-of-court settlement, regarding her defamation case. Alas, she took a rather controversial route, staying consistent to what she is well-known for.

The fallacies that stand out the most, despite being hidden in the well-crafted article, are those of the classic  "straw-man" and "whataboutery". Another visible fallacy in her article is that of "argumentum ad hominem". I will explain how and where I have identified these fallacies below:


The straw-man fallacy is seen in the entire message of her article. The very essence of her article is a straw-man fallacy. Straw-man fallacy is when a particular argument (A) is presented, and the person arguing against it "manufactures" a superficially similar argument (B) that can easily be validated, as if it is an argument against the initial argument (A) Sanef is arguing a particular matter, which relates to the EFF and how it "enabled an environment in which intimidation, harassment, threats and/or assaults on journalists" have become normalised. They are not arguing whether the EFF is allowed to voice its opinions about journalists or not. Of course, the EFF is allowed to have its own opinions about journalists. In fact, the EFF is not the only political party to hold opinions about journalists. Julius Malema is not the only politician to do so, as we have seen before with Jacob Zuma.

The issue here is not about freedom of speech, it's about the methods of applying that freedom of speech, particularly in a quasi-instructive approach that mobilises people to react in a particular manner - huge difference!


Whataboutery is a technique or practice of responding to an argument by raising a different issue. The whataboutery is seen in her reference to how politicians are victims of the same type of "abuse". In her article, she makes reference to numerous threats that have been made to her. The threats are actually quite scary, to be honest, and it is very disturbing to know that we live among people who make threats of this nature, especially to women. Zille missed the point though. The issue is not about the experiences politicians; it's about the experiences of journalists in South Africa.

Ad Hominem

This is a favourite fallacy for most people. Basically, this fallacy is committed by an individual who avoids a genuine argument by opting to reference or attack the character, motives or other attributes of the person who has presented the argument. This is seen in her statement where she writes that "given that Sanef and the journalists who brought the case against the EFF are active commentating participants in day-to-day politics, rather than mere neutral observers, do they expect to be immune from blow-back?".

Again, Zille misses the point. This does not dismiss the fact that the EFF has created a toxic environment for journalists, whether the journalists are more interested in pushing their personal opinions or not. Even if it is true that journalists have pushed their personal agendas and have put many other people at risk, it still does not dismiss the fact that the EFF has created a toxic environment for journalists. An attack or reference to the character of journalists does not validate what the EFF is doing to journalism in South Africa.

In closing, based on the three fallacies identified in Zille's article, in my opinion, her article is baseless, illogical and misguided, but well-written, nonetheless.

Read more on:    helen zille

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