After all, in the liberal democratic tradition on which our Constitution is based, the right to free speech includes the right to offend.
However, politically it was a foolish move. Context matters. The ANC scored a publicity triumph last week by extracting an apology from Eye Witness News for a cartoon deemed by many to be racially offensive. Now the governing party can sniff out racial offensiveness with greater certainty.
It is possible to look at Waters’ photograph and see a collection of black dogs and white dogs, with a large brown one prominent in the foreground. Yet the colour of the dogs is immaterial to ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa, who says the photo “likens people who voted for the ANC to dogs”.
Kodwa was able to draw on previous insults, including one last year where DA Western Cape MPL Theuns Botha allegedly likened ANC MPL Zodwa Magwaza to a baboon. Kodwa also mentioned Stanford Slabbert, a former DA councillor who was expelled in August for describing ANC voters as “dumb idiots who wait for hand-outs”.
So there is a background. In addition, the DA is still reeling from a racial fallout following the decision of former parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko to take time off to study at Harvard. In this highly charged atmosphere, Waters’ action was downright stupid.
Now starting his fourth five-year term as an MP, he holds a senior position as deputy chief whip. Yet he behaved like an ignorant, naughty schoolboy. Deleting the tweet and apologising should not be enough to save him from further censure for poisoning the well of South African political discourse.