Pandor told Daily Maverick on Thursday that she would discuss with her department’s director-general whether any disciplinary action should be taken against Mandela.
Pandor said she had spoken to Mandela by phone and the ambassador had confirmed she herself had posted a series of tweets last week which ignited a huge Twitter storm in which she insulted many people and was insulted and threatened in turn.
In her tweets, mainly sparked by the land reform issue, Zindzi Mandela called whites “rapist descendants of Van Riebeck (sic)” and “shivering land thieves” among many other insults, some even cruder.
Her tweets sparked widespread criticism and calls on Pandor to recall her from her post in Copenhagen.
That seems unlikely to happen. Nevertheless Pandor made it clear to Daily Maverick that in a long phone conversation this week she had reprimanded Mandela for violating the department’s social media policy and told her not to do it again.
“I informed her that we do have a social media policy and that I expect all diplomats to observe it. And that having looked at — of course I have not seen all her tweets — but having read in the media what is reported as her commentary, I felt that she was not in compliance with that policy.
“And I wanted an explanation from her as to what occasioned the commentary and particularly its character.
“She then explained to me that she has had over several months a number of very perjorative reactions to her commentary on social media. And in particular that these comments tend to make demeaning remarks about her father President Mandela, and her mother especially. And she has found these very hurtful…
“However I reminded her that she is a representative of South Africa in a foreign country, as a diplomat. And there is a particular standard of conduct and communication that I, as minister and I’m sure the president, expect her to uphold.”
Pandor said she would now meet with her department’s director-general Kgabo Mahoai “to look at whether we’ve had any such incidents previously and whether beyond the conversation, any further step is merited”.
Pandor added that her own view was that Mandela “did take seriously my very extreme concern and did undertake that she would desist from any such conduct in future”.
Asked if she personally considered her reprimand adequate, Pandor reiterated that she intended to discuss the incident with Mahoai and the department to better understand the implications of the social media policy “and what the sanctions, if any, they anticipate there might be”.
“And after we have had that discussion I will take whatever step I believe is necessary. For now, I am satisfied that I’ve spoken to her. I’ve communicated my concerns.
“And of course I’m keeping a watching brief through my office as to any further action by her.” If there were more similar tweets, Pandor said she would take further action.
She said she had told Mandela that if she were subjected to insulting or demeaning tweets in future, she should leave it to the department or to Pandor herself to respond on her behalf “rather than her becoming party to an exchange that may not assist in enhancing her diplomatic role”.
Asked how Mandela’s comments had violated the department’s social media policy, Pandor said it would have been fine if Mandela had stuck to presenting government policy.
“Let’s say the land issue is an important one, right, for our country? And achieving equality and change with respect to it, is imperative. And the president, the ANC and I think the country, agrees on that. So one can communicate a desire for progress in that particular area.
“But once you begin to become personal and refer to ‘apartheid apologists’, and so on, this shows that you are now becoming emotionally and personally involved, rather than stating a clear government policy position.
“So it was when the tweets appeared to become directed towards individuals and characterising them in a particular way, it was at that point that I felt it might be out of step with what we would expect from our diplomats.” Pandor insisted that Mandela would not get special treatment because of who she was.
“No, nothing like that, certainly not from me. Because I’m new in the post and I’ve not had any particular association before. So nothing like that.
“I expect and in fact what I said to her is what I said to my department when I was appointed minister — that I expect them all to uphold the highest standards and to ensure that in what we do we are advancing the interests of South Africa. If she had been saying I’m going to be speaking to the government of Denmark to ask them to support the restitution of land process in South Africa or some other land-related approach, I would have said ‘hurrah.’ ”
The social media policy of the Department of International Relations and Co-operation is based on the general government policy, an official said.
“It is very clear in its instruction to all government employees that ‘When using any type of social media, you must: be credible — accurate, fair, thorough and transparent; be respectful — encourage constructive criticism and deliberation; be cordial, honest and professional at all times’.”
It stresses that this policy holds whether government employees are using social media for official government communication purposes or using it personally “when the employee’s government affiliation is identified, known, or presumed”.
Mandela’s Twitter account clearly identifies her as South Africa’s ambassador to Denmark.
Among her tweets was: “Dear Apartheid Apologists, your time is over. You will not rule again. We do not fear you. Finally#TheLandIsOurs.”
Another one which irritated many, mostly whites — but also presumably the ANC — was her expression of “pure, unconditional love and respect” for EFF leader Julius Malema. When some responded that her father would not have approved of her tweets, she retorted that both her parents had felt the same for Malema. Her mother Winnie was indeed close to Malema, though her father’s views about him are not widely known.
Mandela tweeted in response to some further goading from white tweeters who objected to being called “land thieves”, “cowards” and so on, that “When you came here without land you found the original people making fire. Next you’ll claim you taught us. Just like Chris Barnard learnt the basics of heart surgery from his black gardener. What you good at is fantasy. #Sterkfontein.”
This apparently referred to Hamilton Naki, who graduated from being a gardener at the University of Cape Town to becoming a laboratory assistant to cardiac surgeon Barnard, before Barnard performed the world’s first heart transplant in 1967. Despite lacking any medical training, Naki reportedly displayed remarkable skills in experimental surgery on animals, though he evidently did not assist Barnard in the first heart transplant, as some media have reported.
And as the Twitter firestorm raged on, Mandela tweeted: “I am not accountable to any white man or woman for my personal views. No missus or baas here. Get over yourselves #OurLand.”
It took Pandor several days to get hold of her ambassador in Copenhagen, but this was apparently because she was travelling around Europe with the Banyana Banyana soccer team.
The minority rights advocacy group AfriForum demanded that Pandor dismiss Mandela for “a series of extremely divisive, racist Twitter messages…” which it said had done major damage to South Africa’s international reputation.
But Ekurhuleni’s ANC mayor Mzwandile Masina jumped in on the other side, tweeting that Mandela had every right to voice her opinion on the issue of land.
Pandor’s response to Daily Maverick suggests that a recall is not on the cards.
Meanwhile, the Freedom Front Plus is to request Denmark to expel Mandela, according to the SABC — but this is also very unlikely.
And the ANC has said it intends taking controversial Afrikaans singer Steve Hofmeyr to court for tweeting to Mandela that as a taxpayer he was her “boss”.
“You WILL jump when I say so and you WILL ask how high,” Hofmeyr tweeted. He also threatened that when Mandela came for white land, “you will die”.
In the AfriForum statement, Alana Bailey, deputy CEO responsible for international liaison, said ambassadors were supposed to represent all South Africans and “convey the image of a healthy and united country to gain the confidence of political partners and investors”.
“With her Twitter messages, Mandela displayed a rancorous attitude towards white residents in the country, and in a very public arena contributed to the division of local communities.
“With false allegations and demeaning terms such as ‘cowards’ and ‘land thieves’, she is contributing to a dangerous discourse of scapegoating. Her defence that she is entitled to a personal opinion, shows a complete lack of insight into her responsibility in her position as ambassador.
“It is also inconsistent with the South African Constitution, which clearly states that the country belongs to everyone. The question, therefore, is whose interests she represents and how much work will be required to manage the relationship and reputation damage that she has now caused by these tweets?”
Bailey said that South Africa’s international reputation had suffered major damage in recent years due to the actions of diplomats abroad and the country’s official stance on various human rights issues locally and abroad.
“The appointment of Dr Pandor revived hopes in the international community that the Department of International Relations and Co-operation has turned over a new leaf and will try to reverse this reputation damage.
“The manner in which the minister handles Ambassador Mandela will indicate whether this hope is justified,” Bailey said.
But Masina said Mandela’s call for land reform was in line with ANC policy.
“If Zindzi Mandela could address us in the ’80s on behalf of her father at the height of apartheid, what will be difficult in 2019 for her to air her views on the land question, which, by the way, we have resolved on as ANC. Land belongs to us, nothing more can be closer to the truth.” DM