THE BLOG

Questions For Helen Zille

If you think giving an opinion as a white person is tough, you should try being born poor and black in a country where the deck is stacked against you.

27/03/2017 06:25 SAST
Mike Hutchings / Reuters

Following her controversial tweets on the benefits of colonialism last week, Helen Zille published an op-ed in the Daily Maverick on some of the lessons she learned on a recent trip to Singapore. Like South Africa, Singapore is a former colony and Zille therefore believes we could learn a great deal from this country on how to handle the legacies of the colonial era. I have read the article and it has left me with more questions than answers. A Twitter follower of Zille's referred to people who disagree with her as the "offenderatti" and Zille fell in love with the term and asked if she may use it in future. If writing this article places me in this category then I accept the honour. If I would bump into Zille at an airport (she seems to love those), I would ask her the following:

First, I would really like to understand the point of all this. What benefit do you believe acknowledging the "positives" of colonialism will bring to a country in which the majority of its citizens are still suffering the legacy of apartheid? Is the word "colonial" code for "white people"? Are you asking black South Africans to appreciate the role whites played in building South Africa?

Second, you acknowledge that Singapore is not a free country and you are right. It is a one-party state, led by a political dynasty. Singapore also has an appalling human rights record and yet you are full of praise for their economic performance. Singapore has an atrocious treatment of the media and LGBT persons, I wonder if the country's economic prosperity consoles them. As a black South African this leads me to wonder: do you believe Apartheid would have been great if only it had provided economic benefits to blacks despite discriminating against them?

Third, you have on a number of occasions said that South Africans carry a victim mentality and yet in this op-ed you have displayed this yourself. You write about how "Speaking while white is the greatest sin in South Africa". Excuse me? Should white people not be sensitive to what they say given our history? Shouldn't white people be held to the same standard you have set for Julius Malema or Mcebo Dlamini whenever they have said anything you deemed hateful and divisive? If you think giving an opinion as a white person is tough, you should try being born poor and black in a country where the deck is stacked against you simply because of your skin. Now that's a sin.

In your praise of how Singapore has moved on from colonialism, you leave out one important difference: Singapore did not go through apartheid after colonisation.

Fourth, it is astounding how in your praise of how Singapore has moved on from colonialism, you leave out one important difference: Singapore did not go through apartheid after colonisation. You seem to undermine the the impact this double oppression had on the majority of this country. So I would like to know if you understand that colonisation and apartheid are not the same thing?

Fifth, in relation to your article you tweeted about how colonisation left black people with an inferiority complex, do you also acknowledge it left whites with a superiority complex? I ask this because I'm part of a generation that believes that since 1994, the process of reconciliation has depended on the forgiveness of black people who have also had to patiently wait for transformation. In your efforts to coax blacks into acknowledging the benefits of colonialism, are you also calling on white people to acknowledge that they benefited at their expense? What role must white people play in the processes of reconciliation and redress according to Zille?

Sixth, you have quoted Nelson Mandela in the article and your intention with this is obvious. You know that he is a revered figure and that his name carries moral authority and you hope to use this to defend your arguments. You also hope it will shut down people with dissenting views, after all, who wants to disagree with Mandela? Sorry but this won't work. Mandela did not fight so that we may agree with him, he fought so that we too may have the right to hold our own opinions. More importantly, Mandela was not always right.

Finally, in the closing paragraphs you appear to throw your party, the Democratic Alliance (DA) under the bus. You speak of how the mess you have created won't have dire consequences for you but rather, it is the party that should be worried. You have worked hard to grow the DA amongst black people and in this context your attitude is puzzling as you risk undoing your own legacy. My last question therefore is: are you daring the DA to kick you out?