Zille’s career in ruins

This column is probably best written at 32000 feet. Waiting in the airport lounge before my flight, I watched in numbed amazement as one of modern South Africa’s most important careers went up in flames.

Whatever happens to Helen Zille next, her political life has changed forever.

For those of you not on Twitter (the sane majority), Zille, the former leader of the DA, mayor of Cape Town and now premier of the Western Cape, easily the best-run province in the country, seems to have been at an airport on Thursday morning.

She has a million followers on Twitter and as she waited for her flight she engaged, as is her wont, in some argument with her followers and critics.

And then, for some maniacal reason, at 8.25am, she tweeted: “For those claiming legacy of colonialism was ONLY negative, think of our independent judiciary, transport infrastructure, piped water etc.”

So powerful was the outrage from (mainly) black South Africans, who don’t have quite so rosy a memory of colonial South Africa, that by 9.59am she was obliged to tweet this: “I apologise unreservedly for a tweet that may have come across as a defence of colonialism. It was not.”

Except, of course, that it was. We are all prisoners of our time and our generations.

Zille’s (and mine) grew up genuinely believing that while we were in families opposed to racial segregation and the National Party, that at least we had good roads and hospitals and schools and airports and stuff. Things in South Africa worked. When majority rule came, they’d be grateful.

But we were dead wrong. Sure there was some manufactured outrage on Thursday but the tweet, on its own, was ruinous. No black person in South Africa today could have tweeted what she did. That is because the things that did work worked because they were needed only, but only, to serve the interests of the colonialists or Afrikaner nationalists who had ordered them built.

White people in South Africa need fundamentally to change the way they think. There is absolutely nothing, apart from the heroism in the face of threat of a very few whites over the centuries we have been here, to be proud of. We need to crush our sense of achievement and success and see those things for what they really are. Nowhere in the world is there a population quite so privileged as white South Africa. We came, we saw, we conquered and we lived like kings. And we remain deeply racist, pretty much all of us. I fight mine all the time. It is all you can do when you recognise it.

At the office, in the car, watching the politics. You have to be conscious of what that feeling that rises in you is. Racism is the sense one race has that it is superior to another. Our white ancestors brought it here, chasing slaves and then chasing land and gold. When will we ever know, or try to imagine, what it must have been like to be a black man or woman (or child) watching this happen around you and to you?

Read some of the judgments of the old (pre-apartheid) colonial courts. They were appalling. And that piped water? Well, if you were black and you had the luxury of a tap in your home, it was because your home was where the colonialists or Nats wanted you to stay.

I feel sorry for Zille. Twitter has been her weakness. It offers no context. And it has really done her now.

Mmusi Maimane, her successor as leader of the DA, was quick to denounce her. “Let’s make this clear,” he tweeted minutes after she had apologised. “Colonialism, like apartheid, was a system of oppression and subjugation. It can never be justified.”

Then he set in train a procedure that could see her face an internal party disciplinary inquiry into what she said and for breaching party rules on the use of social media. So serious is the offence she may even be asked to leave the DA.

I have little doubt Maimane would like that to happen. Zille has made herself a political liability and put Maimane into an impossible position. This is no time for messing around. There is a general election in two years’ time. The race is on for black middle-class votes.

The ANC, uselessly led, is fragmenting. After the 2016 local government elections, it was still possible to imagine the party recovering. Now it is hard to imagine.

The EFF under Julius Malema struggles to gain significant traction, though you can almost feel the ANC willing him back on board. It was Zille herself who told me three years ago that 2019 would be a struggle between the DA and EFF for pieces of the ANC. And while it seems she was right, she has now probably taken herself out of the fight.

Maimane has a shot at something, but he needs peace in his court. He needs to own the DA, change its bloody name and take it away from the older whites he inherited it from.

It can be done, and some of them will help him. Those who don’t will merely be coming to the rescue of Jacob Zuma and the Guptas.

Peter Bruce is editor-in-chief, BDFM


  1. Where the hell do you come from ignoramus by saying that white people are privileged, maybe you should educate yourself before spewing sewage. sitting pretty on your ivory tower which by the way you inherited from the WHITES. Maybe you should read up on the approx 119 laws discriminating against the whites and that is just a start of the APARTHATE against whites here in SA. You obviously live in a world full of illusions so maybe just shut up on subjects you know nothing about. ” Nowhere in the world is there a population quite so privileged as white South Africa” What a load of BS!

  2. There is nothing wrong with what Zille said. The ANC government inherited infrastructure from the NATS. All that had to do be done was to build on that foundation for the better of the people.
    Yes Colonialism and Apartheid was oppressive and wrong, but if not colonialised then Africa and South Africa would have been stuck in the past. No education, infrastructure etc. Any black person who does not realise this, is being ignorant or the hatred / rasicm towards whites has blinded them to reality.

  3. Really? For all its worth this is a well written article. If blinkers are worn and the focus is on South Africa. Removing the blinkers would reveal worse oppression globally, perpetuated by the (and I do not want to get into religion) Pope who decided in 1400’s that Black people or non-Catholics had no soul. It’s grand that the shackles worn have been broken but, and really unfortunately, the leaders who claim to have broken the shackles have just replaced them with a different rhetoric.

    That of dictatorship, displacement of citizens capable of cultivating for sustenance to prove the love for zebras. Don’t get me wrong I love Zebras.

    I would beg to know how many of the new leaders family and friends live in poverty versus the conditions they were in before.

    I hope this is a free area to discuss thoughts and that I will not be subject to the Mugabe CIO when I return.


  4. Oh dear Riaan, perhaps you should read the article again… Its just another White lie that colonialists somehow “saved” Africa from being stuck in the past.. Africa has a rich history, and we will never know how the people of Africa would have developed if allowed – and not colonised and forced to accept white man ways! Colonialism destroyed Africa, South America and countless other civilizations around the world, and until you can see that you’re a part of the problem. We DID NOT WANT your education and infrastructure, we wanted to be left to develop our civilization like your did.

    • hahahahahahahah oh Roger, now you put your foot into it!! You state: “We DID NOT WANT your education and infrastructure, we wanted to be left to develop our civilization like your did.”
      This was recognized years ago and implemented in this country. English people called it “separate development” Afrikaans speaking people called it “Apartheid.” Independent states were even created and look what happened!! hahahahahahah

  5. Of course we know how Africans would have lived without Europeans settling here. Developmentally they were equivalent to 2000BC Britain. Europe had millenia of developmental momentum, including an Enlightenment Africa would never have accomplished within a couple of centuries. So check your reality contact.

    Furthermore, Southern Africa was up for grabs. It was up for grabs for the migrating dark Africans of the Difeqane and it was up for grabs for traveling Europeans. Zulu, Tswana and Sotho tribes were brutal in their warfare and treatment of slaves. Cannibalism was never resorted to by the European settlers – yet these tribes regularly engaged in this kind of savagery. These politically incorrect facts are hardly ever heard of, and we know that there is an agenda (apart from White self-hatred such as what we see above). The Europeans conquered Southern Africa and that is no crime. Either they did, or another African tribe did. Would such conquest have been more acceptable? Seems like it. And that confirms yet again the bias. This is racist African nationalism paraded as noble and humane transformation. You’ve got to be a white fool if you fall for it.

  6. This country will never come right before people mature and accept that NOBODY can change the past!!! So stop harping on it. Put your efforts into changing the future and providing a life for all our children, regardless of colour!!!

  7. Mr Editor Don’t offer us the opportunity to comment if you are not going to print them. Obviously you will not print the truth, because the truth hurts…eishhh!!!