Western Cape Premier Helen Zille obtained an urgent interdict against Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane and the Speaker of the Western Cape Provincial Legislature, not to act against her at this stage regarding her controversial tweets on colonialism.
Mkhwebane, in her report issued last month, directed that the Speaker, Sharna Fernandez, had to take action against Zille within 30 days.
But Zille said in papers before the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, that she will later approach the court to review and set aside Mkhwebane’s report.
She only wanted an urgent order at this stage putting the remedial action on ice, pending the outcome of the review proceedings, which could take some time.
The Speaker did not oppose Tuesday’s urgent proceedings, while Mkhwebane said she would abide by the decision of the court. Judge Norman Davis granted the order without hearing legal arguments, but after he had read through the court papers.
No date has yet been set for the hearing of Zille’s application to overturn Mkhwebane’s report titled “Report on an investigation into allegations of breach of the provisions of the Executive Ethics Code by the Premier of Western Cape Provincial Government”.
Mkhwebane held Zille accountable for her tweets regarding the benefits of colonialism she made following a trip to Singapore in 2017, which sparked a public outcry.
The public protector found that the tweets violated sections of the Executive Ethics Code as well as the Constitution. She directed the Speaker to table her report before the Western Cape Legislature by July 23 for it to take appropriate action to hold Zille accountable.
Zille said she had no choice but to ask for an urgent interdict, as Mkhwebane, unlike the Speaker, refused to give an undertaking that the implementation of her remedial action could be placed on ice pending the review application.
“The interdict is necessary to prevent prejudice to my office by the Provincial Legislature’s implementation of the remedial action which I contend is unlawful…The open-endedness of this remedial action exacerbates the potential prejudice to me – it is unknown and unpredictable as to what sanction the Provincial Legislature may impose in response to the remedial action,” Zille said.
Regarding her review application, Zille said Mkhwebane committed several errors in law when she came to her findings in her report. “The public protector’s findings and remedial action also unjustifiably limit the right to freedom and expression,” she said.
Zille did not deny having made the tweets, “However, I explained the context in which the tweets were made, which is crucial to their interpretation…The first four tweets were my reflections on the various meetings and encounters I had in Singapore,” Zille said in justifying her conduct.
She vehemently denied that the tweets could be interpreted that she “celebrated oppression and racism.” Zille said her tweets must be seen in context. “I did not state and do not believe that colonialism is worthy of celebration. I recognise that colonialism and apartheid subjugated and oppressed the majority in South Africa and benefitted a minority on the basis of race…”
Zille said after realising that her tweets had been misunderstood and that it had caused offence, she unreservedly apologised.
She said her tweets did not constitute hate speech and the Executive Members Ethics Act and Code do not limit the right of freedom of expression that she enjoyed.
“Sanctioning me for the tweets would have the effect of suppressing free speech…The fact that I have continued to hold office and go about my business as usual since having made the tweets, and in the absence of there having been any harm, clearly shows that the balance of convenience lies in my favour.”