William Saunderson-Meyer
3 minute read
25 Mar 2017
5:31 am

Bizarre to burn Zille at the stake over colonialism tweet

William Saunderson-Meyer

Legally, unless her words arouse hatred to the degree that they incite violence, they are constitutionally protected.

FILE PICTURE: Western Cape Premier Hellen Zille. Picture: Tracy lee Stark

The art of cursive writing has almost completely disappeared, even from the schoolroom. The skill of what similarly could be called joined-up thinking, is also under threat of

For while the functioning of society is unaffected by clumsy block lettering, that is not true of crude and disjointed thinking. Fluid and dispassionate reasoning, along with the right to articulate one’s views, are vital in an adaptable, evolving, modern democracy. SA, however, is gripped by a deadening intellectual censorship that makes treason out of reason.

We are a nation that opted for a secular state because we believed this constitutionally to be the best way of accommodating our remarkable range of human diversity. Paradoxically, this is the same nation that now demands adherence to a creed of political correctness that is far more stifling than any religious dogma, in that it is both more ubiquitous and more widely enforced.

That former DA leader Helen Zille is to be “probed” and then possibly expelled from her party for a contentious tweet is bizarre.

Let’s start with the heretical content of the tweet that might condemn Zille to the stake. Within the constraint of 140-characters, Zille argued that while bad, colonialism also inadvertently provided benefits such as infrastructure and the judicial system, from which we all now benefit.

It may well be, to your mind, that this statement is outrageously insensitive to the sensibilities of those who were subjugated. It may well be, to my mind, that it is no more than an inconvenient truth.

It doesn’t matter. Legally, unless her words arouse hatred to the degree that they incite violence, they are constitutionally protected.

The issue, then, is the degree of offence – both real and that feigned for personal advantage – caused. Here, the witch-burning DA leadership is, on the face of it, on surer ground, for there is no doubt that Zille’s words have damaged the party’s image.

But how much? Among actual DA supporters, probably relatively few will be much alienated.

After all, part of the liberal tradition to which the DA, in theory, lays claim is an understanding of polemical expression.

For the same reasons, Zille’s tweet is unlikely to have a lastingly alienating affect on those who reasonably can be seen as potential supporters of the DA. The key word is reasonably.

It is difficult to think of any thoughtful voter being more offended by Zille’s views than by the patently more inane, offensive and dangerous views of some other political leaders.

It is risible to assert that Zille’s views on colonialism – actually more curious than controversial – are as intolerable as Julius Malema “not yet” calling for the slaughter of whites.

Or that they are more offensive than the litany of gratuitously insulting observations coming from a number of ANC office bearers towards Indian and coloured, as well as white, South Africans.

It is shameful that the DA, for the sake of an illusory short-term political advantage, is happy to collude in limiting democratic space.

Political discourse is a necessarily robust process. Unanimity of opinion is not only impossible in a democracy, it is also undesirable.

William Saunderson-Meyer

William Saunderson-Meyer

For more news your way, follow The Citizen on Facebook and Twitter.