Helen Zille found herself trending on Twitter on Monday morning after sparking yet another controversy on the platform by sharing a cartoon by cartoonist Jeremy ‘Jerm’ Nell.
The cartoon depicts a man in Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) regalia – it is unclear whether it is meant to be party leader Julius Malema or just any member of the party – talking to a white person.
“You should give back the land you stole,” says the EFF member.
“You should be jailed for raping my wife!” the white person responds.
“But I didn’t do that,” says the EFF member.
“Exactly,” the white person responds.
“This aptly captures the fallacy and racism behind race generalisations,” wrote Zille by way of a caption.
The cartoon, however, caused outrage.
Multiple users interpreted the cartoon – and Zille’s decision to share it – as implying that “all black people are rapists”.
Zille has strongly denied this, with the apparent intention of the cartoon being to use an analogy to show how accusing all white people of having stolen land is the same as accusing all black people of a crime they did not commit, with rape used as an example.
She has responded to several users who read the cartoon as a generalisation regarding black men and rape by questioning their “comprehension skills” and accusing some users of wilfully misunderstanding her.
Commenting on the backlash, she told The Citizen: “It is to be expected from the woke mob, but it is still astounding. Anyone with basic comprehension would see I posted a tweet to show how WRONG and HATEFUL all race-based generalisations are.
“To then accuse me of making race-based generalisations can have only two explanations. 1) Either the problem of reading-for-meaning is worse than we thought or 2) this is just wilful misrepresentation. I suspect the latter. Entrenching a culture of outraged victimhood is the pre-occupation of a growing number of social media users,” she said.
Cartoonist Jeremy ‘Jerm’ Nell has not yet responded to requests for comment, but did post a detailed response to the outrage on his blog, echoing Zille’s assertion that the outrage is “manufactured”.
Zille has been the source of outrage on Twitter before, most recently with controversial tweets on the topic of “black privilege” in May this year.
Before this, her views on colonialism landed in hot water back in March 2017, when the former DA leader tweeted: “For those claiming legacy of colonialism was ONLY negative, think of our independent judiciary, transport infrastructure, piped water etc.”
Despite the scathing response she received on Twitter at the time, Zille continued to justify her view, making further reference to “specialised health care and medication”, which she said would not have been possible without the “colonial influence”.
After an uproar, she apologised “unreservedly for a tweet that may have come across as a defence of colonialism”.
She has, however, since suggested that the outrage surrounding her tweet was driven by “fake accounts, bots and sockpuppets, driven by a kind of Bell Pottinger network”.
The DA took disciplinary action against Zille due to the tweet, with federal chairperson James Selfe telling News24 in April 2017 that she had been charged “with having broadly brought the party into disrepute and damaging the party”.
This resulted in Zille being suspended from participation in party activities, although she has since been elected to the important position of the party’s federal council chairperson.
She has repeated her view that the legacy of colonialism is not solely negative on Twitter several times since, most recently saying that “the very concept of a state is a legacy of colonialism” in April this year.
(Compiled by Daniel Friedman)