Well, it seemed a good idea at the time
28 June 2017 23:01 (South Africa)
Opinionista Siya Khumalo

#ZilleTradeOff: Why Helen Zille could be found guilty

  • Siya Khumalo
    Siya-Khumalo.jpg
    Siya Khumalo

    Siya Khumalo writes about religion, politics and sex. He is currently working on a book. Follow on @SKhumalo1987 

To grow substantively in 2019, the DA has to adopt a jurisprudential philosophy that could, unfortunately, be used to hold WC Premier, Helen Zille, responsible for bringing the party into disrepute through her colonialism tweets and defences thereof.

I have glimpsed Helen Zille’s humanity through her political nimbus. I’m not sure which shines brighter. So I regret our collective obligation to examine her actions, which needlessly stand in the way of the political realignment our country needs.

Zille apologised unreservedly and then defended her tweets. Will she also apologise for the confusion this created as to what was unreserved about her first apology, never mind whether her DA can be trusted to say what it means?

She’s made claims on the relationships among causes and effects (colonialism and progress — the benefits of the latter being unevenly distributed and subjective) but those claims are speculative at best and dangerously mistaken at worst. So people understandably interpret her argument through the cynical lens of the political moment, as well as varying complex motivations imputed to her. That comes with the territory!

Apart from these considerations, her tweets are nothing that’s never been said before. It’s when you start asking, “Why her? Why this medium? Why now? What’s her intention? What taste does she want to leave in people’s mouths?” — questions she would have asked as a journalist — that you start wondering whether a mind as analytical as hers spent so many years studying how news works “from the inside” that her subconscious could seize this opportunity for a perfect storm. So what scores is she settling?

Why shouldn’t people find that line of questioning more relevant than her claim that “the legacy of colonialism wasn’t all evil”?

Just as her post-apology behaviour is not consistent with apologising, her tweets aren’t coherent among themselves as to her beliefs on the immorality of colonialism. And how many of the countries she compares ours to had the former beneficiaries of oppression stay without having to make reparations?

When there is an injured party and a party implicated with injuring (or indirectly benefiting from the injury), it is the injured’s prerogative to rank the pros and cons of the situation — not the injurer’s or beneficiary’s. I use this analogy because sexual violence was a sub-legacy of colonialism: what if a rapist’s family said to one of his victims, “But what our son did to you gave you this beautiful child, so the rape’s legacy wasn’t only evil”?

Wouldn’t it be more respectful (dignity is constitutional!) for the rapist’s family to wait for the survivor to frame the story? Everyone frames stories because just as there is no objective fact-book against which to test Zille’s posited relationships among causes and effects (apart from the more immediate contextual considerations of who she is and what her intentions could have been when she pursued this path), no story dropped down from heaven fully formed. No court would say her tweets were “correct”, for then it would have to exonerate tweets on how today’s Jews benefited from scientific advances made during the Holocaust. It could be easier for a court to condemn Zille’s tweets than rule them “factually correct”.

Even if Zille’s voicing of her opinion is constitutionally sustainable on the basis of her right to freedom of expression, the tastelessness with which she exercises it right conflicts with others’ right to dignity (which includes the aggrieved’s right to frame the story) and will be the reason neither the DA’s nor South Africa’s Constitution will be supported by voters come 2019: those legal frameworks fail to endow black persons with equality. The failure happens when those interpreting them don’t impress contextual equity into disputes. No constitution or constitutional right was ever formed or ever operated in a vacuum.

The justice framework we inherited came about because former President Nelson Mandela, among others, backed down from implementing what would have been seen as perfectly justifiable measures in 1994. His reticence about justifying that version of justice was prior to and made possible Zille’s rush to justify her interpretation of the rules. If we’d applied her approach to law during Mandela’s moment, there would have been no Zille moment.

Prior to her self-justification should be mindfulness that a negotiated settlement is negotiated, as opposed to meeting all the needs of every party, let alone the aggrieved who could make the greatest claims. It’s a settlement as opposed to being an ideal and perfect ending. From its beginning, “We, the people of South Africa, Recognise the injustices of our past”, the letter of our law decidedly points beyond a threadbare reading of itself towards restoring dignity; towards spirit, not letter. The constitutions ultimately answerable to the Constitutional Court are signposts guiding us to interpretations that allow aggrieved parties to frame for themselves, to their own equity and dignity, their stories of how they came to be aggrieved.

We’re stuck in 1994 until we outgrow the ANC. The DA must grow, come Helen or high water. That the announcement on her possible suspension was mishandled may discredit the DA, but it doesn’t re-credit her.

The DA could be the ANC of the 21st century if it does what the ANC never didliberate, not tax money, but black people and all South Africans. But that would depend on the jurisprudential philosophy it segues into. DM

  • Siya Khumalo
    Siya-Khumalo.jpg
    Siya Khumalo

    Siya Khumalo writes about religion, politics and sex. He is currently working on a book. Follow on @SKhumalo1987 

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