Helen Zille: How politically correct must we be?

Opinion Piece by Lelouch Giard

Helen Zille: How politically correct must we be?
Helen Zille and Mmusi Maemane in “happier years”. Photo: Die Vryburger

The bandwagon is back in town, and it’s time for me to hop back on: let’s discuss Helen Zille. Specifically, let’s discuss Helen Zille’s recent Tweet about colonialism and the outrage surrounding it.

On March 16, Zille posted multiple Tweets suggesting that colonialism had had positive effects ad well as negative ones. They read: “For those claiming [that the] legacy of colonialism was ONLY negative, think of our independent judiciary, transport infrastructure, piped water etc.”, “Would we have had a transition into specialised health care and medication without colonial influence? Just be honest, please.” and “Getting onto an aeroplane now and won’t get onto the wi-fi so that I can cut off those who think EVERY aspect of [our] colonial legacy was bad.”

Helen Zille's Tweet about colonialism
Helen Zille’s Tweet about colonialism
Helen Zille's Tweet about colonialism
Helen Zille’s Tweet about colonialism
Helen Zille's Tweet about colonialism
Helen Zille’s Tweet about colonialism

To me, at least, her message seems clear. Colonialism was bad, taken as a whole. It left lasting scars, and no sane person wants it back. But, just as it left lasting scars, it brought with it some long-lasting positive aspects. One cannot look at the negative, without seeing the positive. To do so would be hypocritical and biased. Equally so, one cannot see the positives, without acknowledging the pain caused by the means.

I find it difficult to understand how these Tweets could be seen as racist by anyone but armchair word warriors poised and waiting for the least slip or ambiguity in the words of their targets. We have no way of knowing what colonised countries would look like today, had they not been colonised, but we know for sure what luxuries in our daily lives were introduced through colonialism. While those gains must, of course, be considered in context – the means of colonialism are not justified by their ends – they are still gains, and not racist, biased or evil in and of themselves. Are taps and plumbing racist?

Zille quickly apologised, Tweeting: “I apologise unreservedly for a tweet that may have come across as a defence of colonialism. It was not.”

Helen Zille apologise for Tweet about colonialism
Helen Zille apologise for Tweet about colonialism

How politically correct (PC) does one have to be in South Africa? If you’re not black, very PC, it seems. If you’re black, you can say just about anything you want (anti-white sentiment, that is; anything hinting of anti-ANC sentiment has its own range of consequences).

For those who take the stance that colonialism was negative, and only negative, like Ulrich J van Vuuren, who posted: “No Helen Zille, colonialism did not bring ‘development’ to Africa. It brought oppression, exploitation, racism, poverty, etc, etc, etc.”: You are narrow-minded. Helen Zille did not deny the negative aspects of colonialism. She highlighted some of the good that came out of it, yes. Astute professional critics and hypersensitive Twitter warriors seized the chance to suggest that in not explicitly speaking against the negatives of colonialism – and daring to hint at a positive side – Zille was endorsing colonialism. Do people not realise that, by the same criteria, most South Africans on Twitter endorse the ritualistic rape and murder of non-blacks? More on that a little later.

Not once did Zille say that colonialism was not negative. She did point out that it is more complex than just ‘all bad’ (as is often the case with a situation calling for a moral judgement). She was not defending or justifying colonialism, she was looking at it from an angle that is often ignored (an angle that exists and is quite valid). Colonialism wasn’t all bad – it was racial biases and the failure to accommodate different cultures that lead to the oppression and negative aspects of colonialism. Technology assisted the oppression – that doesn’t make technology evil any more than sleeping pills are responsible for suicides.

Colonialism did not introduce oppression, exploitation or poverty to Africa; these things already existed before then. Humans are humans – whether they be white or black – and being human implies that there is the capability for cruelty. Pretending that Africans were not capable of cruel and inhumane (not inhuman) acts before colonialism is unrealistic, and contrary to historical evidence.

Helen Zille will face disciplinary action from the Democratic Alliance (DA), according to the political party’s website. According to the DA, Zille breached their social media policy. Still not finding the part where she tried to say that colonialism is ok – but seems the DA found that part. Hope they will eventually show it to the public; their statement does not quote or explain it. They also clearly didn’t care about the clarification Zille hastened to provide.

So, here’s my question. In what kind of society is someone ostracised for stating that a situation is more complex than it seems, when other, more racially charged and more hate-fuelled statements are simply ignored? Don’t believe me? Let’s look at some examples.

16 November 2016: Mmusi Maimane, the current leader of the DA, posted a Tweet of three black men, bearing large rocks and slabs on concrete, waiting in an alley, with the caption: “Waiting for the two #coffincase people who act[ed] in [a] despicable manner against the South Africa we ought to build. Racism must be destroyed.” Tell me, is this not inciting violence? Is this not against the DA’s social media policy? Were the stones symbolic and ceremonial – or were they intended to be used to bludgeon someone to death?

Mmusi Maimane inciting violence
Mmusi Maimane inciting violence

Obatala Mcambi posted: “I use my guns to rob and kill Indians&Whites.Please fellas,join me,we have to rape their kids with AIDS virus too! [sic]” along with photos of his gun, and a profile picture of him wielding a gun. How many people are endorsing this racist murder-and-rape narrative by, like Zille on colonialism, not explicitly denouncing this racist, preferring to hedge words about “an unfortunate past” or how “blacks can’t be racist”? Should these people, too, be judged for their silence on how objectionable this message is?

Mmusi Maimane endorsing racist murder-and-rape narrative

10 July 2017: Maleven Serage posted a picture of himself, holding a gun, with the words: “I’m about the total destruction of white people. I’m about the total liberation of black people. I hate white people. I hate my enemy. I can’t wait for the day that they’re all dead . I won’t be completely happy until I see our black people free,Not yet Uhuru,,,,,Black Power [sic]”. Again, have you spoken out against this madman, or are you endorsing him by SA’s narrow, ever-more-politically-correct standards?

27 February 2017: think different (@EsethuHasane) on Twitter posted: “Only Western Cape still has dry dams. Please God, we have black people there, choose another way of punishing white people.” I don’t know which is worse: the blatant racism, this idea that this person has that they know what God is doing, or that this person believes in a racist God.

If Maimane (with his own dodgy Tweet) were not a public figure as well, one could perhaps try to argue that Zille is under fire for her Tweets because of her position in society. As is, the only conclusion to be drawn is that South Africans ignore racism when a black person is the one being racist – how racist is that?

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