At the inaugural dinner of the Liberal Club in Johannesburg, former Democratic Alliance (DA) leader and Cape Town premier Helen Zille delivered a speech which demonstrated her problems with identity politics and “wokeness”.
Zille argues that those who were preoccupied with these ideas wanted “the right not to be offended” and that free speech was becoming a casualty of this.
She interprets US political scientist Francis Fukuyama as saying that supporting the “right to be protected from offence” creates a “victimhood hierarchy”, where she says the bottom rung “is occupied by the most privileged, presumed to be white heterosexual males”.
“They are fair game to be targeted by everyone, who have not only a right, but a duty to challenge their inherent privilege.”
She describes “the universally targeted white heterosexual male”, arguing that it is this targeting that has driven such people to “mobilise with others of similar genetic make-up around individuals like Donald Trump”.
In South Africa, she said, white heterosexual males were, while a tiny minority, “a demon group” who was a victim of “scape-goating” to “deflect public attention away from the failures of a racially self-defined majority government, to curb corruption, uphold the rule of law, or make significant progress in delivering the opportunities promised by constitutionalism through a capable state”.
“Woke” is defined by Zille as “a term of approval in the new liberal lexicon”.
“Wokeness, in essence, has become modern slang for describing progressive, social-justice-oriented liberalism.”
She believes, however, that “woke liberalism has all the hallmarks of an ideology, that claims to have discovered ‘truth’ and seeks to force the world into its framework”.
“Good vs evil. Four legs good, two legs bad. In short, the very antithesis of liberalism.”
The full speech can be read on PoliticsWeb.
Zille’s speech demonstrates the chasm between those who identify as followers of “classical liberalism” as opposed to left-wing social liberalism.
To offer a simple distinction according to Wikipedia, “classical liberalism” advocates civil liberties under the rule of law with an emphasis on economic freedom, while “social liberalism” advocates a “regulated market economy and the expansion of civil and political rights“.
The term “classic liberal” is usually identified with the right-wing, and with a rejection of identity politics , while “social liberalism” – which they call modern liberalism in American and leftist liberalism in Germany – is more concerned with racial and gender equality, and is where what Zille describes as “woke liberalism” would fit in.
The former DA leader, while existing during apartheid on the left of the political spectrum, is now considered right-wing by many South Africans.
She has earned frequent accusations of racism for her tweets in defence of colonialism, and more recently for coining the term “black privilege”, which she defined on Twitter as “being able to loot a country and steal hundreds of billions and get re-elected”.
According to a recent article titled Helen Zille: more than just a jump to the right by Christopher McMichael, “Zille has become notorious for making comments about South Africa that strike many as more opposed to antiracism than to racism”.
The article, from New Frame, documents Zille’s ideological connections to both the South African and global right, and argues that her views demonstrate a “paranoid anti-intellectualism” that “is typical of the far-right in North America”.