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Zille bids Twitter account farewell

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The social media platform may have been intended to engender debate and freedom of speech, but had ended up curtailing both

Democratic Alliance federal chairwoman Helen Zille yeterday announced that she was closing her public Twitter handle, where her posts have over the years repeatedly landed her in political hot water.

Zille said she was taking the step, and retreating to a private Twitter account, following distasteful comments on a picture she posted of herself and her granddaughter Nceba cooking during a bout of loadshedding.

One Twitter user asked whether the little girl was being trained to become a domestic servant.

“After the grotesque treatment of my granddaughter on Twitter, I am closing this account. I say goodbye to some of my followers, and good riddance to the haters, bots and sock-puppets that constitute such a large percentage of my 1,4-million plus followers,” Zille said.

She said the social media platform may have been intended to engender debate and freedom of speech, but had ended up curtailing both.

“For a long time I have sought to promote Twitter as a platform for rational and civil debate, but it clearly is not possible. It has degenerated into a space of distortion, de-contextualisation, demonisation, de-legitimation and double standards.

“Instead of democratising debate, it has severely curtailed freedom of speech and discussion. It emboldens your enemies and silences your friends. It is a space where the best lack all conviction and the worst are full of passionate intensity, as Yeats so aptly put it.”

Zille said she was setting up a new private account, where she would engage with “people interested in rational debate only”. She apologised in advance to those who would be excluded as followers because she did not know them.

In March 2017, Zille upon returning from Singapore, sent out a tweet in which she said that colonialism “was not all bad”.

It triggered a political storm, and Zille was suspended from the party by then leader Mmusi Maimane pending a disciplinary process.

In the end, the charges were dropped after she apologised and agreed to withdraw from all leadership structures.

But the matter lingered in the air long after, and Maimane made reference to it earlier this year when he resigned from the official opposition party after Zille returned to a key leadership position.

Zille had also used her Twitter account to comment widely on issues around the world, recently weighing in witheringly on the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s decision to stop being working royals, and to interact with supporters on everything from burning dinner to being bitten by a rat.