Western Cape Premier Helen Zille. Photo: Leon Lestrade

An ANCYL official who branded Helen Zille a “racist b***h” is standing by his words, despite deleting the remark from his Twitter account.

Provincial co-ordinator Senzeni Mphila tweeted the comment after the DA leader described Eastern Cape pupils who flock to the Western Cape for a better education as “refugees”.

He said on Monday: “I have not retracted my words, now and again I remove tweets that have become irrelevant in my account, and Zille’s comment is now irrelevant to me. The ANC has responded politically to her racist statement and covered all avenues.”

Mphila said he was perplexed by Zille’s “obsession” with the Eastern Cape.

“She will never rule in the Eastern Cape. People will never vote for her. Her true colours are starting to show, that she only caters for one race that has benefited from the apartheid era.”

Professor Anton Harber, the chairman of the Freedom of Expression Institute, said on Monday the “refugees” debate was a healthy one and proof that the “Twittersphere” had a valuable role to play in today’s society.

“Twitter has its obvious limitations, but in this case it did serve to highlight some issues which then played themselves out in the more substantial, traditional media.

“Zille can at least defend using the label ‘refugees’, but it is hard to see how anyone can defend Mphila’s inappropriate language. It crosses a line from robust discussion to ugly abuse and it drags the national debate down into the gutter.”

Harber added that for public figures, social media were both a valuable tool and a dangerous weapon. “Politicians have even less privacy than before and have to watch every word they make in every medium.”

Zille’s spokesman, Zak Mbhele, said the negative reaction by most people was massively overstated.

“Some people focused on one word, turned it into a racial thing and missed the entire point completely. We will not respond to Mphila’s statement as we think it was immature and we are not going to take it seriously,” he said.

Social media trainer and journalist Gus Silber said public figures who openly embraced social media must be wise enough to define for themselves how far they should go when it came to engaging with their followers.

“We need politicians who are open and candid on social media, even and especially when they say something with which we may strongly disagree,” he said. - Cape Argus

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