Zille denies colonialism tweets incited violence
Cape Town - Former Western Cape premier Helen Zille says Public Protector advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane has failed to prove that her tweets on the legacy of colonialism in South Africa constituted an incitement to violence.
She further alleged that Mkhwebane relied on a selection of her tweets and a few newspaper articles to make an adverse finding against her.
Zille’s comments form part of her first bid to set aside Mkhwebane’s report, which found her tweets in March 2017 about the legacy of colonialism constituted an incitement to violence.
Zille lodged her formal review application in the North Gauteng High Court on Wednesday, following the release of Mkhwebane’s report titled: “Report on an investigation into allegations of breach of the provisions of the Executive Ethics Code by Premier Helen Zille”, which was released in June last year.
Upon her return from a trip to Singapore in 2017, Zille tweeted that South Africa had “much to learn from Singapore, colonised for as long as SA, and under brutal occupation in WW2. Can we apply the lessons in our democracy?”
Her comments prompted a backlash from several quarters. In response to a social media user she wrote: “For those claiming legacy of colonialism was only negative, think of our independent judiciary, transport infrastructure, piped water etc.”
Mkhwebane undertook to investigate, following a complaint lodged by ANC MPL in the Western Cape Legislature, Khayalethu Elvis Magaxa.
Through her counsel, Sean Roseberg SC, Zille argued that “the PP’s findings were based on a misinterpretation of her tweets, as well as a misconstruction of the right to freedom of expression under section 16 of the constitution.”
Roseberg said: “The effect of the Public Protector’s findings and remedial action is to justify the right to freedom of expression by sanctioning the premier for the exercise of that right. This is unlawful and constitutionally invalid.”
Rosenberg said it was wrong for Mkhwebane to maintain that the tweets were “offensive and demean the experience of millions who suffered under the exploitative and oppressive colonial system of government. Zille argued that her tweets had instead sparked robust debate on Twitter.
“The Public Protector failed to determine the objective meaning of the tweets at all. The Public Protector applied a wholly subjective approach: She interpreted the tweets based on what she perceived to be the ‘public reaction’ to the tweets,” Rosenberg said.
He said Mkhwebane considered the “public reaction” and a few newspaper articles to be “the best evidence” of their meaning.
Mkhwebane’s legal counsel advocate Thabani Masuku is expected to conclude his argument at a date yet to be set by agreement with all parties.