Former Western Cape premier Helen Zille has come out to tackle public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane saying she 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.
The former premier’s reaction 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.
It is recalled that in March 2017, Upon her return from a trip to Singapore, where she had been on an official visit, Zille charged that South Africa had much to learn. She 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.” Public Protector Mkhwebane undertook to investigate, following a complaint lodged by ANC MPL in the Western Cape Legislature, Khayalethu Elvis Magaxa.
Zille argued through her counsel Sean Roseberg SC 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. He said Mkhwebane considered the “public reaction” and a few newspaper articles to be “the best evidence” of their meaning.
Thabani Masuku the PP’s legal counsel is expected to conclude his argument at a date yet to be set by agreement with all parties.
Zille had been publicly called out at least twice in the past for tweeting that colonialism was “not all bad.”