International Relations Minister Naledi Pandor. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency(ANA)
Zindzi Mandela-Hlongwane’s had social media all abuzz this week. Initially, she went to ground as the Department of International Relations and Co-operation tip-toed around the issue, showing the kind of diplomacy and tact we might expect of our ambassadors.

Mandela-Hlongwane had shown no such restraint last Friday, when she posted a series of tweets that, in typical social media fashion, went downhill from the off, as our ambassador to Denmark managed to seamlessly segue from calling white South Africans land thieves and cowards to c#nts and a#seholes in almost as many tweets.

Minister Naledi Pandor, her political boss, got involved on Tuesday, saying the matter would be investigated, but not before the Teletubbies had taken to the Twitter streets to rally behind her unequivocally, with Steve Hofmeyr, just as predictably, two-finger typing blood curdling threats to her - and DA MP Phumzille van Damme.

Dirco though - to say nothing of the Union Buildings - has a major headache. It’s not what Mandela-Hlongwane believes that’s the issue, it’s not even the register of language she used. She’s actually entitled to both. The land issue, Hofmeyr’s bluster notwithstanding, cannot be wished away. The real issue is whether Mandela-Hlongwane can make those utterances in public.

Politicians have an incredible amount of latitude, ordinary citizens less so. Those selected to represent all of us - not just sectarian interests - have even less.

It’s a great honour and a very well remunerated one. Accepting the post means accepting certain responsibilities and obligations, which come with being your nation’s most senior representative in that country - as Tony Leon reminded all of us this week, from his time as an ambassador.

Being circumspect - even more than Dirco was this week - is part and parcel of that, as is promoting government policies with which you actually might not agree. It’s very similar to the expectations placed on any high-ranking member of society, whether C-suite executive or Cabinet minister.

In fact, almost every company has a clause in its disciplinary code, making it a dismissible offence to bring the company into disrepute - underscored and re-iterated by the social media codes introduced because of the inherent risk for reputational damage that social media holds - irrespective of whether the employee is on duty or off.

In that case, the only question, from an internal disciplinary point of view, is whether the government believes Mandela-Hlongwane brought her office into disrepute or made the country suffer reputational damage through her conduct.

There’s no middle ground, if you look at the toxic polarised idiocracy that is Twitter: half want her burnt at the stake, the other half want her canonised.

Thankfully, unlike Ace Magashule, she hasn’t tried to claim her Twitter account was hacked, the 21st century version of being “quoted out of context” - leaving the time bomb ticking away on Pandor’s desk. How she and her mandarins handle this will speak volumes about the real shape and tenor of the much-vaunted New Dawn.

If they fudge it, they’ll be letting a lot more people than Mandela-Hlongwane off the hook.

* Kevin Ritchie is a journalist and former newspaper editor.

** The views expressed herein are not necessarily those of Independent Media.