DA leader addresses Twitter critics

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Helen Zille, leader of South Africa’s largest opposition party, has responded to a recent spat between herself, officials from her party, and South African singer Simphiwe Dana that played out on Twitter.

The spat began when Dana directed a number of barbed political points toward Zille on the microblog, to which the Democratic Alliance leader replied in kind, characterising them as “baseless assertions”.

Dana and like-minded Twitter users then began sending Zille and other DA officials a series of increasingly difficult-to-answer tweets.

The spat peaked when DA spokesperson Lindiwe Mazibuko, in a move reminiscent of the ANC Youth League’s characterisation of Twitter users as “Desktop Activists“, tweeted:

“Do Twitter slacktivists who live to hurl abuse at @helenzille ever ask themselves whether an ANC head of govt would entertain their drivel?”

In the wake of the spat, Zille has defended herself against charges that she ignored questions she didn’t want to answer.

In a statement posted in the DA’s weekly newsletter, Zille addresses the incident. She makes particular mention of a colleague who had warned her not to answer questions on Twitter. “The best advice is usually recognised in hindsight, after you have ignored it! In politics, the more accessible you are, the more accessible you are expected to be. And this is multiplied many-fold on Twitter.”

Zille also points out, however, that “volume is not the major problem. “The biggest challenge is length — or the lack of it. An entire message, including spaces and punctuation, is limited to 140 characters. It is possible to ask a complex question in 140 characters, but usually impossible to answer it adequately.”

Zille also pointed out that, “When ‘followers’ become accustomed to receiving answers, a ‘non-response’ often generates even greater outrage. Lose-lose. In politics, the ‘no-win’ situation creates a perfect gap for your opponents. They take it instantly”.

The DA has pioneered use of social media amongst South African political parties. Zille is still South Africa’s most followed politician, beating out South African President Jacob Zuma’s personal Twitter account by some 10 000 followers. The DA has also received praise for the sterling social-media campaign they waged during this year’s local government elections.

When approached for comment by Memeburn, Dana said that her response to Zille would be in a column she has written and is to be published this coming weekend.

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