Following a media briefing in Kimberley on drought in the Northern Cape, Democratic Alliance (DA) interim leader John Steenhuisen was confronted by EWN on his views on DA federal council chairperson Helen Zille’s latest Twitter controversy.
Zille caused outrage when she shared a cartoon by Jeremy ‘Jerm’ Nell handling the contentious issues of land and race, and controversially comparing the idea that all white people are land thieves to the idea of wrongly accusing a black man of rape.
“First of all I don’t believe in racial generalisations on either side, whether it’s against white Afrikaans people or black, male South Africans,” Steenhuisen said.
“I don’t think racial generalisations and racial categorisation and racial stereotyping helps anybody and certainly is a distraction from the bigger issues, the economy, jobs, and those sort of crises.
“But Helen is an adult, she must account for her own Twitter account. I’m very happy to account for my Twitter account and things I’ve said on it.
“I very firmly don’t believe in generalisation or stereotyping of any type. I think it is a cul de sac.
The DA interim leader went on to say that “Twitter itself is not the real world”.
“If Twitter was the real world, Hilary Clinton would be in the white house, Britain would be in the EU and Jeremy Corbyn would be the prime minister of Britain. It’s not the real world and people obsess far too much about Twitter.
“There are real issues on the ground which worry me more about where we’re heading as a country, unemployment, the jobs crisis, state-owned entities, our balance sheet, etc, which people who don’t have the luxury of Twitter worry about far more, how they feed their families, how they pay for school fees, how they ensure they can provide.”
Steenhuisen’s interviewer then said that because Zille is a leader in the DA, “people would want to know what your thoughts are”, noting that when Mmusi Maimane was DA leader, he came out in disagreement against her controversial tweets on colonialism.
“I was very clear at the time of that tweet … that I also didn’t share necessarily share the view,” Steenhuisen said.
“I didn’t think the platform was right for that kind of debate, but as I say, I can’t be the Twitter police in the party.”
Steenhuisen was then asked if whether or not Zille and he had spoken about the latest tweet.
“Of course I speak to Helen, we’ve got a relationship as the federal executive chairperson and the leader, but I can’t spend my day on Twitter policing every single person’s tweets and being a moderator of that. I would never be able to leave the office if that was the case.
“I really believe that people must be held accountable for their own Twitter feeds and how they manage those.
“They need to be held accountable as leaders in their own right. I don’t think it’s right that I am held accountable for somebody else’s Twitter account
What, the interviewer asked, was the DA’s policy on tweets which were contrary to the party’s position.
“Generally, if there is a complaint, that is referred to the various bodies in the party to process those,” Steenhuisen said.
“We are a party of due process, if someone in the party feels that the tweet is inappropriate they must approach the federal legal commission and lodge a complaint and there will be an investigation.
“I said it’s not my job to police peoples tweets and peoples thoughts. I believe in freedom of speech and freedom of expression in the country it’s one of the foundational cornerstones of the DA’s constitution.”
(Compiled by Daniel Friedman)