Living in South Africa can be quite exhausting and frustrating. We are confronted with ambivalence, disdain and expediency at every turn. There’s the triple threat of poverty, unemployment and inequality, which are exacerbated by the self-indulgent and corrupt tendencies of an elite few. There is the living legacy of apartheid and colonialism that remains unchallenged in far too many spaces. Then there are the missives that stem from Helen Zille that she is willing to share and aggressively defend so widely via social media.
We are abused by the incidents like the recent conduct of Penny Sparrow, Dianne Kohler-Barnard or Velaphi Khumalo. We must endure the ongoing xenophobic and fear-fuelled rhetoric by Herman Mashaba. We are haunted by the violent, racist and aggressive behaviour by a white man this past Sunday in the Texamo Spur in Johannesburg directed against Lebohang Mabuya and her family. Mabuya had to stand up against that racist aggression that so many South Africans must face every day. Yet far too many try to accuse Mabuya of provoking the altercation or dismiss the undertone of patriarchy and racism that laced the attack.
While it has become quite liberating for South Africans to confront this type of abusive and destructive behaviour it does not address the underlying issues that make such conduct possible. It is not enough to respond by paying lip service to the violence and abuse that South Africans must endure every day. It is not enough to launch investigations or to issue press statements.
An additional layer of complexity to this abuse often goes unanswered as it is far more difficult to identify, confront or challenge as it is rooted in the very system and structure of our society. We must acknowledge that problematic views often filter into policy and decision-making, which has a profound and ongoing effect on South Africans. We have seen this filter through in the corrupt and disastrous behaviour of Jacob Zuma and his Government from the Marikana massacre, the Nkandla scandal, the debacle around social grants or the ongoing fight by Mthandazo Ntlemeza and Nathi Nhleko to keep Ntlemeza in the top post even though he, like far too many others, is not suited for the position he has been parachuted into.
The tweets of the former leader of the Democratic Alliance must give us pause especially if we consider whether those views are infused in the policies of the government that she leads. Zille has a history of taking her controversial world view to the realms of social media. So, it should not be surprising that she would share her alternative facts about colonialism.
However, what is surprising is that the Democratic Alliance has to date not taken substantive action against her or that there has not been a massive contingent of fellow party members who have come out and called her out for those views.
Yes, a complaint has been laid against Zille and an internal disciplinary process is under way. However, that investigation will not unpack whether her world view and alternative facts have filtered into the policies and positions of the government that she leads. The legacy of colonialism has been brought to the fore by Zille and so the recent decision by the Western Cape Government as it relates to the Tafelberg site and the question of social housing should be considered in light of those views as the opinions and world view of the leader of this provincial government must be factored into how public power has ultimately been exercised.
About a year ago, in a Daily Maverick column, I highlighted the fact that the current campaign by organisations like Ndifuna Ukwazi and their Reclaim the City campaign are critical to addressing our broken society. If we ignore this reality, we will continue to see the shocking contrast of how the stories of Franziska Blöchliger of Tokai and Sinoxolo Mafevuka of Khayelitsha are dealt with.
There has been a missed opportunity by Zille’s colleagues to provide an alternative view on a critical question and they have failed to distance themselves from her recent utterances. Instead, a statement has been issued by Zille and her Cabinet that the sale of the Tafelberg site will continue and those proceeds will be used for the “completion of the upgrade to the provincial government’s building”. Zille’s Government was faced with an opportunity to meaningfully make a different choice but instead will use the funding to provide upgraded office space for civil servants while those calling for social housing are ignored.
The ongoing fight against the structural challenges to realising the ideals of our Constitution must continue. The battle against alternative facts will need to be accelerated. Importantly, we will need to demand more from our leaders especially as they have been entrusted to fulfil their constitutional mandate by exercising public power fairly, properly and ethically. It will not be enough to gloss over their outrageous views. DM