Government's failure to condemn 'racist' social media posts sets SA back, warn experts

20 June 2019 - 06:00 By Graeme Hosken
South Africa's ambassador to Denmark, Zindzi Mandela, has sparked a social media storm after a series of tweets on land rights in the country
South Africa's ambassador to Denmark, Zindzi Mandela, has sparked a social media storm after a series of tweets on land rights in the country
Image: Roberto Ricciuti/Getty Images

Most South Africans do not want to their politicians playing race games – instead, they want them to focus on creating jobs and fixing the economy.

This is according to Institute of Race Relations (IRR) associate Gabriel Crous, who was responding to the latest social media storms created by Zindzi Mandela and Panyaza Lesufi.

"Since the new dawn, we have expected a retreat in government-issued racial rhetoric, but instead of this we have seen it being ramped up again and again," said Crous.

He said what was taking place on Twitter and within certain elements of the ANC, the hallways of parliament, "and now Denmark and diplomatic corridors is different to what is really going on in South Africa".

"While there have always been elements within the ANC which have punted race nationalism and have talked up White Monopoly Capital to deflect attention from state capture, our surveys show that for the majority of South Africans, racism is seen as something politicians use as an excuse to make up for their shortcomings.

"Most South Africans, who are poor and suffering, do not want their politicians playing racial politics; rather, they want them to get on with the job and help build social cohesion and not divide and destroy it," said Crous.

Alleged racist tweets and comments by prominent government staff - including by Nelson Mandela's daughter, which have garnered a groundswell of public support - have cast doubt on how serious the state is in cracking down on public servants whose comments appear to threaten South Africa's social cohesion and image.

Mandela, South Africa's ambassador to Denmark, caused a storm on Twitter on Youth Day with a string of posts using the hashtags #OurLand and #TheLandIsOurs.

While her tweets are gaining support, the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has confirmed it has received a complaint. The government, which has yet to condemn the comments, has been left red-faced as it battles to track down the ambassador and verify the tweets.

Mandela's tweets included:

  • "Dear apartheid apologists, your time is over. You will not rule again. We do not fear you. Finally #TheLandIsOurs";
  • "Whilst I wine and dine here … wondering how the world of shivering land thieves is doing #OurLand"; and
  • "Miss all these trembling white cowards, shem Botha, Potgieter, thieving rapist descendants of Van Riebeck, etc. How are you my babies? We shall gesels more Mr Skont and Ms Unus #OurLand". 
Some of Zindzi Mandela's tweets, which have caused a social media storm.
Some of Zindzi Mandela's tweets, which have caused a social media storm.
Image: Twitter
Ambassador Zindzi Mandela's tweets on land have raised questions over how seriously the government takes racism, say analysts.
Ambassador Zindzi Mandela's tweets on land have raised questions over how seriously the government takes racism, say analysts.
Image: Twitter

Mandela's tweets came days after Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi was forced to retract a fake racist Whatsapp message which he had shared. The Gauteng provincial government did not comment on Lesfui's tweet.

On Friday lat week, Lesufi again made headlines while speaking at an education conference in Nasrec, Soweto, when he said he would not allow "kleinbaas" schools under his leadership. He was responding to requests for Afrikaans-only schools.

"I respect all 11 languages and mother tongues. If someone says they want to learn only in Afrikaans, I will allow you and I will give you teachers to teach you, but not if you want to learn in a mother tongue and the entire school must be in Afrikaans," said Lesufi.

"If you fight me, I'm ready to fight … There will be no school for kleinbaas under my leadership. You have the right to resist what I want, but I also have the right to resist your resistance."

The tweets of Mandela and Lesufi and the lack of government condemnation, say some analysts, are a sign of how government is not serious in cracking down on racism, especially from senior public servants and prominent officials.

Human Rights Commission spokesman Gail Smith said they had received a complaint over Mandela's tweets and that it was being assessed.

Declining to comment on the damage caused by the tweets to the country's image and the effect on social cohesion, Smith said everyone in South Africa had the responsibility to foster social cohesion.

"Government officials are subject to the constitution and all other laws, as is everyone in the republic. All government officials are enjoined by their oath of office to uphold the constitution and as such, all public officials are obliged to know and understand the constitution and all laws," said Smith.

"Understanding inequality on the grounds of race … is the responsibility of all in South Africa."

International relations and cooperation minister Naledi Pandor's spokesperson, Lunga Ngqengelele, said the minister had instructed the department's director-general to find Mandela and verify the tweets.

"The minister is taking this seriously. Ambassadors are representatives of the country and have to carry themselves accordingly. All our ambassadors have been reminded of this, as well as the dos and do nots of social media," said Ngqengelele.

Department of international relations and cooperation (Dirco) spokesman Clayson Monyela said the department was trying to track down Mandela, who was travelling, to verify whether the Twitter account was actually hers, whether it was her tweeting and if so, whether she stood by the posts.

"We have not yet reached the point to say whether it is the ambassador's account and whether she actually said those things. Once that has been done and the information verified, we will decide on whether to bring in the department's and government's social media policies, which all public servants must adhere to," said Monyela.


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