Twitter troll behind @TracyZille account to face Equality Court

A Zulu men residing at the Jeppe Hostel shout while waving a stick towards the police in JeppesTown, in Johannesburg, on September 3, 2019, following a second night of urban rioting in this area of the city in an unusually large expression of anti-foreigner sentiment. - The township was scene to a second night of urban rioting in Johannesburg, where hundreds of people marched through the streets on September 2 in an unusually large expression of anti-foreigner sentiment. Such violence breaks out sporadically in South Africa where many nationals blame immigrants for high unemployment, particularly in manual labour. (Photo by GUILLEM SARTORIO / AFP)

The SAHRC was working on the case even before the DA sent a complaint to them, after picking up on consistent tweets from the account punting racist and xenophobic content. 

The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) is taking who they believe is behind the notorious Twitter troll @TracyZille account to the Equality Court. 

The main @TracyZille Twitter account. Photo: Screenshot

There are multiple accounts with the same name currently on Twitter.

Photo: Screenshot

The news was welcomed by the Democratic Alliance (DA), who in a statement on Wednesday revealed the name of the the person who they believe is behind the account: a Limpopo EFF councillor.

The @TracyZille Twitter account saw the man suspected to be behind the account posing as a white woman, and tweeted several “racial incendiary tweets aimed at spurring on racial discontent,” explained the DA’s justice and correctional services shadow minister Glynnis Breytenbach.

“The utterances on the @TracyZille account sought to demean black South Africans, whilst at the same time vilifying white South Africans.”

SAHRC Limpopo provincial manager Victor Mavhidula told The Citizen that for now, the name of the respondent is being withheld, saying the commission does not want to publicly identify him before they are sure it is who they suspect. 

“We are trying to make sure we don’t create loopholes in our case,” Mavhidula explained, adding that there is evidence linking him to the account, thanks to the SAHRC’s own verification process. The commission used tracers to identify the accused.

He said the SAHRC was working on the case even before the DA sent a complaint to them, after picking up on consistent tweets from the account punting racist and xenophobic content. 

“We all know these kinds of tweets create problems in our society. We can’t allow this to go on, it can lead the country to a civil war. It advocates the position of hatred towards other races. But we don’t want to lose on technicalities.” 

The case at this stage is sensitive and complex, Mavhidula said, saying that the matter was different to anything they’ve come across before. 

“We are going to handle it differently, and after our assessment, we may need to get high-profile advocates involved to look at the complexity of the matter.”

The SAHRC believes the reasons behind the respondent’s tweets was “to inflict serious harm”, and should the commission find there has been a violation of human dignity, they will take the case further. 

“We don’t want to find ourselves in this situation as a country. We are advocating for nation-building. We don’t want to be a country where we don’t forget about racism, and when we try to move forward, someone does this,” Mavhidula explained. 

The @Lerato_pillay Twitter account created in November last year has fuelled toxic dialogues on the social media platform aimed at debasing foreign nationals in South Africa, according to the Centre for Analytics and Behavioural Change’s (CABC) interim report.

CABC director of dialogue facilitation Stef Snel told The Citizen that before the Lerato Pillay account was created and a subsequent network established, xenophobic conversations on Twitter were averaging at around 250 posts per day.

Since then, xenophobic posts have increased 120 times, averaging at 30,000 posts a day, and on busy days, peaking at 80,000 posts. 

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