by Unathi Kondile
As the education crisis in the Eastern Cape takes its toll, there are some in our midst who have seen this as a proverbial gold mine. They have adorned themselves in all sorts of mining gear and headed on a looting spree – feeding off the miseries of our children’s education plight.
It was a sunny Tuesday morning (20/03/2012) as birds chirped outside and humans tweeted on Twitter when I came across a rather questionable early morning exchange between Premier Helen Zille (@HelenZille) and @Vuyisaq – the discussion was on education. I think it was around 7am. Two responses later Zille dropped the R-word. Now I am not implying that @Vuyisaq was in cahoots with Zille on deliberately igniting this campaign so early in the day. I’m not.
That was the beginning. I, personally, did not take offence to the use of this word, as its straightforward interpretation reflects reality.
As the day progressed, the R-word suddenly became a bone of contention. It then dawned on me that something was happening on Twitter. A ploy of sorts was panning out and working in favour of Helen Zille. Soon this R-word debate was going to hit mainstream media and pave the way for Helen Zille’s by-elections campaign trail in Port Elizabeth today (27/03/2012). As predicted all papers and online news sites were running this R-word spat, even the Eastern Cape’s Daily Dispatch ran it here.
Thank you Twitter. You’ve been darlings. One of the things we undermine about our politicians is that they possess the ability to think ahead – some employ thinkers and digital strategists in their teams, when the thinking gets tough. It would be stupid to think politicians are stupid.
The DA – working with all that young talent, backed by the University of the Democractic Alliance (UCT) – has found the pulse of social networks like Twitter.
Nothing Helen Zille says on Twitter is a mistake.
I repeat, nothing Helen Zille says on Twitter is a mistake.
Pleas like “can someone get that woman off Twitter!” or “Helen Zille must apologise!” are misguided and miss a crucial element of her strategy – that Twitter has become the shortcut into mainstream media for her. Helen Zille knows this and has used it on several occasions to her advantage.
Example 1: At a time when the City of Cape Town was being tarnished with another R-word (Racist), Zille deflected all this attention on Cape Town’s racism with two words: “Professional Black” – all anger was redirected to her, instead of Cape Town’s racism. Thus putting Cape Town’s racism to bed, once again.
Example 2: The Eastern Cape Education Refugees. Calling people “education refugees” was Zille’s well-timed way of gatecrashing the Eastern Cape education crisis whilst showcasing better education on offer in the Western Cape. It worked. Get noise on Twitter and the media (which seemingly camps on Twitter) will notice and put this in their papers.
However, news of a Twitter “Refugee” brouhaha reaching the Eastern Cape take on a different form of meaning once they’re outside Twitter. A different audience that is not privy to the pigsty that is Twitter will interpret these events differently.
To the eyes of the poor and those enduring the Eastern Cape education crisis Helen Zille is deadright. “Education is better in the Western Cape – we would like it too, maybe if she led the Eastern Cape we would have her kind of education” is a possible thought avenue.
Three days after her R-word utterance, on Twitter, guess where she was? Port Elizabeth. In blue shirts the DA marched against SADTU there. Needless to say the media saw this as an opportunity to interview her on her use of the R-word. Bear in mind that at this same time there was a massive racial war between coloureds and blacks in Grabouw, Western Cape. Yet again (as in Example 1), she was successfully deflecting attention from her province’s race problem with the simple use of a word: “Refugee.” The media’s writings and questioning remained pinned on her education comments, not so much on Grabouw. I believe the term for this is: Winning! For Zille this further became an opportunity to get onto TV – for free – and campaign via the media. The aim: Advertising that she cares and that she was now there to reassure potential Eastern Cape Education Refugees that she would take care of them. If they vote for her. Remember all it took was a tweet at 7am with @Vuyisaq. It boils down to thousands and thousands of rands worth of FREE campaigning. So well orchestrated was this plan that at the end of her campaigning in Port Elizabeth she took an Eastern Cape Health Refugee along with her and dumped ‘it’ in Khayelitsha hospital. She gloated and gloated about this on Twitter too – that the Eastern Cape Health department had failed this woman, hence she’d taken her to the Western Cape for treatment.
What does this all mean in the minds of the desperate?
It means Helen Zille is indeed the white messiah they’ve all been waiting for – she will give them a better education as well as transport them to better hospitals.
Do not underestimate Helen Zille’s use of Twitter.
It’s a strategy to get votes, backed by a serious team of social network savvy kids. If it means using the Eastern Cape’s education crisis as a ladder to votes then so be it. Heck, it’s an additional opportunity to mock the ANC’s poor governance in that province anyway. Just use Twitter – the medium of mass thinking and mass gullibility – and the media will do the rest for you.
It would be wise not to get distracted by such techniques. And focus on the real problem:
The Eastern Cape has an education crisis on its hands and we need to mobilise parents and communities to engage government themselves. Our people must learn to do things for themselves. They must get angry and do something about that anger. The sooner our people feel and understand that they too can effect change with their voices to government the sooner we can begin to have an active citizenry that will claim its share of this country.