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Digital All Stars is a series of articles which aims to celebrate the best of South African digital. The articles, which will appear on Memeburn and Ventureburn, recognise and celebrate South Africa’s best digital entrepreneurs, business people, advertisers, and media professionals among others.
Social media has evolved rapidly over the past 15 years, becoming an essential tool for many rather than a mere curio. In fact, Twitter has gained a reputation as the leading news and entertainment source for many around the world.
With that (and our current political climate) in mind, we take a look at some of the South African politicians who stand out on Twitter. You don’t have to agree with their politics, but they use the platform for more than just press releases.
Malusi Gigaba (@mgigaba)
Position: Minister of Finance
Gigaba has been in the news recently after President Jacob Zuma announced that he would be Finance Minister. But if he’s got one thing going for him, it’s that he’s definitely more adept at Twitter than his predecessor.
While many politicians post party press releases or entertaining attacks on the opposition (or nothing), Malusi Gigaba’s timeline often sees him doing… his job.
Whether he’s looping in the department of home affairs twitter account, giving out relevant email addresses or updating citizens on their queries, Gigaba’s Twitter account is basically a support account then. It’s rather refreshing to see this type of interaction with citizens, but we’d like to see this from other ministers/politicians too.
Fikile Mbalula (@MbalulaFikile)
Position: Minister of Police
Bye bye bye bye bye twitter see you sooooon bye bye bye bye bye bye bye bye bye bye bye bye bye bye bye bye bye bye bye bye bye bye bye.
— RSA Min of Police (@MbalulaFikile) March 31, 2017
Is he the most popular South African politician on Twitter? Not quite, but Fikile Mbalula is killing social media nonetheless thanks to his comebacks.
The ANC member and minister has conducted numerous “clapbacks” against fellow politicians and even everyday South Africans/trolls, earning loads of retweets and favourites in the process.
Mbalula posted some interesting photos with prominent sporting figures and entertaining GIFs, during his tenure as Sports Minister. Expect less of these now that he’s Minister of Police, but he still seems to be doing a better job on social media than most SA politicians.
Julius Malema (@Julius_S_Malema)
Position: Leader of the EFF, and MP
Was there ever any doubting that Juju himself wouldn’t make a list of must-follow politicians on Twitter? Of course not.
The EFF leader reached a deal to take over what used to be a satirical Twitter account several years ago. And, as you’d expect, his real-world “firebrand” personality translates perfectly to the digital medium. Malema does retweet a large amount of EFF missives, but it’s worth following him anyway for his no-holds-barred take on the latest scandal.
Helen Zille (@helenzille)
Position: Western Cape Premier, DA founder
We can start by expropriating Nkandla. No compensation needed. We already paid more than its value, several times over. https://t.co/upW8klyHQQ
— Helen Zille (@helenzille) March 13, 2017
The Western Cape Premier has been a polarising figure on Twitter, as South Africans either praise or blast her divisive tweets.
More recently, Zille’s tweets on the “benefits” of colonialism have resulted in the news that she would be subjected to the DA’s disciplinary processes. If it’s anything like Dianne Kohler-Barnard’s disciplinary process, we can expect her to pay a fine and engage in social media silence for a while.
In any event, it’s hard to argue that Zille isn’t embracing the social media platform, even if she occasionally needs her phone taken away.
Nqabayomzi Kwankwa (@N_Kwankwa)
Position: UDM MP
Kwankwa became a minor sensation during this year’s SONA 2017 event, with the UDM MP being singled out on social media for his dashing looks.
Unlike much of his fellow politicians, Kwankwa isn’t setting Twitter on fire with his musings, pretty much towing the party line. Still, he regularly engages with news publications, analysts and other social media accounts.
Mmusi Maimane (@MmusiMaimane)
Position: Leader of the DA, and MP
Let’s make this clear: Colonialism, like Apartheid, was a system of oppression and subjugation. It can never be justified.
— Mmusi Maimane (@MmusiMaimane) March 16, 2017
The DA leader already had a substantial following, thanks to being the poster-child for the opposition party. But his election as head of the party only saw more followers coming forth.
Maimane’s timeline is mostly awash with blue (both literally and figuratively), but the account is worth following for the latest political scandals and his opinions on everything from the Guptas to Amakhozi.
Mbuyiseni Ndlozi (@MbuyiseniNdlozi)
Position: EFF spokesperson, and MP
What Nqabayomzi Kwankwa is to the UDM, Mbuyiseni Ndlozi is to the EFF, having even earned the nickname of “people’s bae” in some quarters.
In any event, the EFF MP and national spokesperson isn’t quite as entertaining as other names on the list, but hey, he can’t have everything.
Advocate Dali Mpofu (@AdvDali_Mpofu)
Position: EFF MP, national chairperson
May I start by congratulating FinanceMinister Gigaba for holding the position for more than 4days & missing the WorldRecord set by VanRooyen
— Dali Mpofu (@AdvDali_Mpofu) April 4, 2017
One of the more outspoken politicians on Twitter, Mpofu doesn’t shy away from telling it like it is. Whether it’s due to his general demeanour or legal background, the EFF MP is a straight shooter.
Mpofu isn’t shy about venting, with recent tweets attacking Bathabile Dlamini over the grants crisis, for one.
Nazier Paulsen (@NazierPaulsen)
Position: EFF MP
Is it any surprise to see this many EFF politicians join the list? Paulsen is another politician who doesn’t quite treat his Twitter account as a PR platform. Far from it.
Whether declaring that Cyril Ramaphosa knows “fokol” or decrying Western “fuckery”, Paulsen’s timeline makes for entertaining reading, at the very least.
In other words, he might not be as recognisable a name as the likes of Mmusi Maimane, Fikile Mbalula or Julius Malema (in real life or on Twitter), but he’s worth a follow anyway.
John Steenhuisen (@jsteenhuisen)
Position: DA chief whip, and MP
Gigaba says we won’t be downgraded for long- it’s taken other similar economies an average of 7 years to regain their credit ratings!
— John Steenhuisen MP (@jsteenhuisen) April 3, 2017
A DA MP, footage of Steenhuisen’s verbal smackdown of President Jacob Zuma went viral last year. Fortunately, Steenhuisen’s opinions tend to carry over to his Twitter account as well, making for entertaining reading, even if you don’t like the DA’s politics.
The MP is fairly active on Twitter in general, occasionally engaging with news publications and responding to other users. Not quite as blue as Maimane’s Twitter account then.
Mbhazima Shilowa (@Enghumbhini)
Position: COPE co-founder
We’re not just putting Shilowa on the list because we needed members from other parties (he was most recently associated with the UDM), although that is a wonderful bonus.
Instead, Shilowa regularly replies to people tweeting at him, speaks his mind on various current affairs and posts some of his favourite music tracks. And isn’t that what Twitter is really about?
Shilowa doesn’t have nearly as many followers as other more prominent names on the list, but his timeline offers a lovely glimpse of his personality nonetheless.
Mosiuoa Lekota (@MTLekota)
Position: COPE co-founder, MP
COSATU has called on Mr. Jacob Zuma to step down. Fellow South Africans, we are making headway to saving our beloved country, South Africa.
— Mosiuoa Lekota (@MTLekota) April 4, 2017
We’ve got a proper Cope member is on the list, in the form of Mosiuoa Lekota. So what should you expect from Terror’s timeline, then?
The Cope co-founder doesn’t tweet very often, but most of his tweets are attacks on President Jacob Zuma, ANC politicians and the ANC government at large. So, like much of SA Twitter then.
Herman Mashaba (@HermanMashaba)
Position: Mayor of Johannesburg
Herman Mashaba, or rather, Johannesburg Mayor and Black Like Me Founder™ Herman Mashaba, has enjoyed some great growth on Twitter after becoming mayor.
And, much like the next name on the list, Mashaba’s timeline shows him doing mayoral things. We’ve got road-digging, golf club swinging, ribbon cutting and community walks. It seems like baby kissing is the only thing missing on the list.
Patricia de Lille (@PatriciaDeLille)
Position: Mayor of Cape Town
I want the public to remember that even though the City is the custodian and I am the accounting officer, this is their money. #CTCouncil
— Patricia de Lille (@PatriciaDeLille) March 29, 2017
Another opposition mayor makes the list in the form of Cape Town’s Patricia de Lille. And much like Mashaba, de Lille usually posts ‘important mayor stuff’, to use the correct term.
In fact, if you’re looking for a vitriolic approach to Twitter, you might be disappointed. Ribbon-cutting and media engagements are what you can expect to find on her timeline, but she also responds to citizen queries now and again.
Zizi Kodwa (@zizikodwa)
Position: ANC spokesperson
Another ANC member joins the list in the form of long-time party member Zizi Kodwa.
You’d expect that the national spokesperson would be using Twitter as a platform for disseminating press releases, but Kodwa regularly engages with other members of the service as well. After all, what’s the point of joining Twitter if you don’t interact with others?
As you’d expect, Kodwa’s more recent tweets have seen him engage in a spat with eNCA journalist Xoli Mngambi. All in a day’s work for the ANC spokesperson.