Raceballs 19: Zilleballs

A transcript of Sunday Times journalists discussing the recent PVD, HZ contretemps on social media

The following is a transcript of the discussion on the Sunday Times Politics Weekly podcast of the 26th June 2019 around the DA MP Phumzile Van Damme’s criticism of former leader, Helen Zille, for raising the audi alteram partem principle, in relation to the DA MP’s recent altercation with a family at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront.

The host is Amil Umraw and his discussants the Sunday Times journalists Qaanitah Hunter, Zingisa Mvumvu, Zimasa Matiwane.



Amil Umraw: Hello, hello, hello. Welcome to another episode of Sunday Times Politics Weekly with me Amil Umraw. Thank you guys so much for joining us this week. We have a jam packed edition this week for everyone to listen into and thank you so much for following us as well. Our following has grown substantially. We really appreciate the support guys. In studio this week I have Zingisa Mvumvu, Zimasa Matiwane and award-winning journalist, Qaanitah Hunter. We have been graced this week.    

Zingisa Mvumvu: You must emphasize, it’s is not just any award-winning, this is the Nat Nakasa. The biggest honour.  

Amil Umraw: How does it feel, how does it feel to you? Come on tell us?

Qaanitah Hunter: Now I’m like blushing.

Amil Umraw: Humble at that.

Zingisa Mvumvu: This thing is in the league of the Pulitzer award my man: Nat Nakasa, yessus.

Amil Umraw: So as promised we have brought excellence into the studio. Thanks guys and let’s get straight into it. We’re going to get straight into our first section. It’s called the Good, the Bad and the Newsworthy. Let’s start off with the DA. Now the party has gone through a lot of its own racial relation issues over the past couple of years.

Specifically, before elections, suffered a bit of a crippling blow there when it came to race relations. But now again we see party members and senior party members, fighting amongst themselves. This in the form of Phumzile Van Damme and Helen Zille. Now this is where it all started. If I remember correctly Phumzile Van Damme, DA’s MP, was sort of accosted at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town in a bit of a racial incident where she ended up punching the guy who was the perpetrator, the alleged perpetrator of that incident. All fine and good, Phumzile took it up.

There was a massive debacle around it, and everything was going fine, until Helen Zille, who we all know has a bit of mouth on Twitter for such things tweeted:

”I wish the family would come forward and give us their perspective. But I supposed they are scared of potential consequences. It is hard in these circumstances to work out where the truth lies.”

Now one would have expected as a senior party leader the first thing you would tweet is to give support to your fellow colleague, right? Now that wasn’t the case. Now Phumzile Van Damme came back this time relentless in her response to Zille, saying:

“Anyone with an iota of intelligence would watch Petzer’s video and laugh. You invalidate my experience. I was made to feel sub-human. I was threatened. In addition to that I must be dragged through the mud and you gladly join the mob with your one million followers. I don’t kneel to bullies.”

Now interesting response from Phumzile here. Actually one of the first black members of the DA’s party to sort of speak out against Helen Zille’s racism. What do you guys make of this? Is it a sort of an example of some of the race relations currently dividing the DA?

Zingisa Mvumvu: Well for me I mean this of course is an isolated incidence. You know, my view is that in South Africa there is still a lot of racial tensions to this day. And I don’t’ think we are being honest in our discussion around those, as such, that’s why you will always have these events whereby they go out into the open and people are fighting. I mean within the DA itself which mostly claims to be a party for all, you know, and you see that Helen Zille deliberately decided to to take that side to sort of rubbish the allegations of Phumzile Van Damme that she was a victim of a racial confrontation. So I think it is just a general problem that we have as a country that we don’t discuss these things. We sweep them under the carpets in the interest of reconciliation. In the interest of, you know, so-called Rainbow Nation.

Which as far as I am concerned is an illusion because, you know, when you look at, you know, the living experiences and all other issues of economic ownership. Who has jobs, who is unemployed, you will see that there is no such thing as a Rainbow Nation. And we don’t talk about these things honestly. Instead we try to be nice to each other because I think we need to get to a point whereby we are honest to each other. We’re saying to each other this is what, you know, “those who were advantaged during the apartheid are still advantaged to this day. What do we do to correct these issues?” And that is what we are not doing. As long as we are not doing that these things are going to escalate to a point that I think one day we will definitely have a physical confrontation, wide scale, to that extent, because of being nice and soft of these issues.

Amil Umraw: Zimasa.

Zimasa Matiwane: You know the whole thing about racism, as a black person I’m exhausted, I’m tired and I’m not going to explain racism to a white person. It’s their duty to understand what makes me feel uncomfortable or what I consider to be racist, so that they don’t do it. So in terms of, you know, us sitting together and trying to figure things out, I feel like sometimes Helen, when she speaks, of course she is a white woman so she speaks on a position of privilege, and she has never experienced racism, Helen. So she doesn’t even know what it is nor understand it. Hence she speaks like this, but you see what happens when you allow people like Helen to drive the narrative is that you end up diluting the whole conversation of what exactly racism is and you end up exhausting yourself by explaining it to them. So I as much as we need a kind of a social thing around this whole racism thing, personally I’m not willing to get into that with white people never ever ever. They need to figure it out.

Amil Umraw: Let’s go back into the DA’s issue here because if we look at it the party has come under fire for this before and it’s not the first time that Helen Zille has made tweets of this nature. She has been warned about this by Mmusi Maimane once before. But what does this say ... I mean we always criticize the ANC for factions, speaking on factions and various people speaking about other people. And now it is happening quite frequently within the DA and this is based on racial lines. How do we interpret this for the DA?  

Zimasa Matiwane: I think you can’t accuse Helen Zille of not being consistent. She has always been consistent and the reality is that I am sure there were hundreds of people who, and I say white people, but also maybe supporters of the DA, members of the DA, leaders of the DA, that probably invalidated in their minds the experience of Phumzile Van Damme particularly because “oh she hit ... she punched the guy” and people want to know, they need to know exactly what happened. You can’t ... it’s a matter of racism. It’s not how you feel. You made me feel sub-human. You made me feel like just because I was black and you cannot go in a manner of trying to break this down scientifically.

No you made me feel as if I was sub-human and that should be enough to believe Phumzile Van Damme and say that I was so angered about how I was treated that I was led to a violent encounter. Now Helen Zille has consistently, consistently played this card where she is almost ... it is like this sarcastic undertone to people’s lived experiences of racism.

The same way she questions you know reports about the fact that you know black people are worse off than white people. You know all of those kind of things and the reality is you would think in 2019 we’d all be on the same page to say there was a huge injustice that happened. We are not equal as a society. We won’t be equal for a very long time. Therefore we need to have these conversations and these actions.

But I think Helen Zille is consistently playing into a certain constituency of hers. I don’t know if this is basically her paving out her future as a politician, but she is consistently pushing her or appeasing to almost right leaning constituency of the DA, liberal constituency of the DA. And the reality of it is, is this is what we see that is spilling over in the public. We shouldn’t think of it as a twar. It undermines actually what’s happening. That these are two people who are just fighting it out on social media. This is a person who had experienced, who had a lived experience of racism. She spoke out about it, she tried to do something to defend herself about it and on the other hand it’s ... it’s ... you have a former leader of the party. A white leader, former leader of the DA trying to invalidate her experience.      

Amil Umraw: Let’s talk about this very quickly Zingisa. If you look at this whole scenario everyone is asking where is Mmusi Maimane in all of this? The man has been quiet and he always seems to be quiet when it comes to these things. Should he be taking more action against Helen Zille but does he have the power to take this much action? Because we’ve always seen the sort of power divide between the two of them and people always question who is really in charge of the DA here?  

Zingisa Mvumvu: Look before I answer your question I just want to add on a point that Qaanitah was saying, on this whole thing of Helen Zille and particular constituency that she appeals too. It is exactly what I was saying earlier on, that racism is well and alive in South Africa and the likes of Helen Zille know about it. She knows that when she speaks she speaks for lots of people, probably millions. Just that others are not brave enough like her to speak up.  

Qaanitah Hunter: That is so true.

Zingisa Mvumvu: Same thing goes for Mr. Steve Hofmeyer who is also at fault and is also embroiled in his own racial shenanigans almost time and again. In fact, between him and Zille there is no difference. The other one is male the other one is female. They know, what emboldens them, is they know that they are not speaking ... these are not just their personal views. These are the views of many people like them. Just that others choose because we have this whole approach in South Africa that you can’t say certain things that you cry, you must try and nurse each other’s feelings. And speak out because they know they are supported. I mean Steve Hofmeyr has been like this all these years but his music continues to thrive. He lives a nice life. His music gets bought because he has got supporters who believe in the views that he believes in. Anyway coming back to Mmusi, Mmusi,m shame eish.    


Zimasa Matiwane: Oh wow.

Qaanitah Hunter: Wow.

Zingisa Mvumvu: No I feel for him I mean because seriously this guy, on the political aspect of things Helen Zille has always spoken against ... not only on racial issues. Even on policy issues of the DA. She always speaks the opposite of what the party is about. And the person who is supposed to put [her] into line, for instance let’s make an example about the ANC where factional as it is when Ace Magashule spoke for instance on the Reserve Bank issue the president came out and put it right. His firm foot on the ground.  

Zimasa Matiwane: Firm I’m not sure.


Zingisa Mvumvu: That is up for debate. But at least he did something to show that he is the man in charge. Which Mmusi has failed to do time and again and I believe this is what exactly emboldens Helen Zille because he paints a picture that she is more powerful than Mmusi Maimane. I don’t know whether Mmusi Maimane actually sis the leader of the DA or perhaps as S'Thembiso Msomi once wrote a book about him entitled Profit or Puppet. I don’t know because everything points to the fact that ... to the latter that he is a puppet. He is a person who is not in charge of the DA.  

Qaanitah Hunter: And you know when we criticise people like Phumzile Van Damme for example, I’ll use that as Mmusi Maimane to say watch out you are being put in this position by white people because you are tolerable to them. They deny this thing. They said that they believe that it was their merit and nothing else. And many, many critics said that it was convenient for the DA to put these type ... to effectively parachute these type of people into the national political sphere and now in retrospect they can see what was the consequence of ... or what actually was at play when you have people like Helen Zille saying it was a bad decision to put black people there. And that is why you see people like Phumzile Van Damme now deciding to reassert herself against people like Helen Zille who effectively believe in their minds that |I made these people”.      

Amil Umraw: Zimase.

Zimasa Matiwane: You know I always feel sorry for Mmusi, because. One, Helen is no longer a mayor, two Helen holds no position, leadership position in the DA. He is sort of veteran] somewhere. But it is just that people pay too much attention to what she says. Well she says a lot of divisive nonsense obviously we will get angry. I don’t like the fact that Helen Zille’s racism and disrespect of black people is going to be put on Mmusi’s shoulders all the time. I mean, he is also black like us. He gets tired, he is also tired, so maybe we must all deal with Helen and leave Mmusi alone.

Qaanitah Hunter: So is Helen like Jacob Zuma?


Zingisa Mvumvu: Actually she is.


The full podcast can be listened to here: