The price of privilege is obliviousness


They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and so it was with businesswoman Magda Wierzycka this week.

The chief executive of investment company Sygnia quit Twitter after a torrid week in which she was pilloried for two hapless tweets.

On Wednesday, in a tweet commemorating Human Rights Day, she posted: “Let’s never forget 21 March 1960” alongside photographer Sam Nzima’s iconic picture of Hector Pieterson – a victim of the Soweto uprising, which we mark on Youth Day on June 16. Awks. She apologised and deleted it.

But it wasn’t just her. Wierzycka pointed out that the department of international relations had done the same thing. Double awks.

Last weekend, she again had to apologise after tweeting a heartfelt suggestion that every household hire an extra “cleaning lady or gardener” as a “practical, short-term solution to the serious problem of people living on social grants”.

She later apologised, retracted and undertook to spend R200 000 on job-creation initiatives.

On Thursday, she said she was quitting Twitter because she couldn’t take it any more. She clearly felt victimised, telling TimesLIVE that her detractors had “achieved one thing – a voice silenced”, and that it was a “pity‚ as it was a forum through which many people in need reached out to me”.

Here’s the thing. I’ve not met her, but Wierzycka doesn’t strike me as a bad person. She seems to mean well and have good intentions, but these have paved the path to hell she travelled this week.

Another saying has bearing here – the price of privilege is obliviousness. Wierzycka may not have tweeted what she did if she had a deep appreciation of and empathy for what it means to be black in South Africa; or if she had grappled with what it must be like to be an unemployed black graduate; or a child of a domestic worker who never sees their parent because they work long hours for a white family.

Personally, I also think it’s because she lives in Cape Town. You know, that place where white residents have been known to ask fellow customers (black ones) which supermarket aisle the mustard is in and if they can “have some service here, please”.

Cape Town is also home to Helen Zille, who this week asked in a tweet whether the families of the Life Esidimeni victims did anything to alert the health department about the condition of their loved ones. (Dear Helen, they did.)

If I did meet her, I would suggest to Wierzycka that she move to Joburg, where we’re a little further along with the national project.

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