Former public protector Thuli Madonsela has sparked a Twitter storm with a conciliatory tweet that welcomed the remission of former president Jacob Zuma. Unfortunately, her tweet has ignited a heated and racially charged debate on the platform.

By Simamkele Njo

Social media users, particularly those on Twitter, engaged in heated debate regarding former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s conciliatory tweet in response to the news of President Jacob Zuma’s special remission.

Minister of Correctional Services, Ronald Lamola, told reporters that former President Zuma, along with 9,488 other prisoners, received special remission as part of a process that began in April.

Zuma was sentenced to a 15-month jail term by the Constitutional Court for contempt, following his refusal to testify at the Zondo Commission, which investigated allegations of state capture.

In September 2021, former Correctional Services national commissioner, Arthur Fraser, approved his release on medical parole. However, the decision was challenged by the DA, Helen Suzman Foundation, and Afriforum.

In November 2022, the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) decided that Zuma must go back to prison to complete his sentence. He appealed to the Constitutional Court but was unsuccessful. The highest court in the country upheld the SCA’s decision but also stated that Acting Correctional Services Commissioner Makgothi Thobakgale should determine whether the time Zuma spent on medical parole should be considered as time served.

On Friday, Thobakgale announced that Zuma, along with thousands of other inmates, were released in an effort to address prison overcrowding.

This led to a heated debate that rapidly transformed into racial animosity on social media. Surprisingly, Thuli Madonsela, the former Public Protector who initiated and received widespread praise for the state capture prosecution, became the target of criticism from all sides.

Madonsela made an effort to be graceful and conciliatory in her tweet: “I support the remission of former President Zuma’s sentence as Ubuntu anchored. The point regarding no one being above the law has been made and the teaching power of the law leveraged. Nothing more could be gained through further incarceration. There’s also the fact his release was the state’s mistake #Ubuntu.”

After that, the floodgates were opened. Twitteratzi were all over her. Some accused her of supporting Zuma and black mediocrity, while others criticised her for staging a publicity stunt. Some claimed that the former president knew more about the Ubuntu principle than she did.

Gareth van Onselen, tweeted, “This is how mediocracy looks likes, and how it acts to poison standards.”

A tweet from Ron Breed read, “Ubuntu, what nonsense is that there is no Ubuntu in SA. While the big boys feed at the trough, the rest of SA cripples, burns and stumbles over the mess this very political party has created. You lost all your credibility.”

Sihle Lonzi, a member of the EFF, wrote: “Today she learned that she is just another black pawn in their world whose survival relies on advancing their interests. Thuli Madonsela is being shown that she is nothing but a tool of the white men. I love white people because they do not pretend for long. Madonsela, just like Mashaba, Majozi Phumlani, and Ramaphosa thought they were darlings of white allies, racists will remind them that they are black.”

Noxza Dube tweeted: “They’re showing Thuli Madonsela flames. She thought she was their special Stellenbosch makoti, but now they are reminding her that she is black, and she’ll never be like them. She was trying to sound smart.”

Professor Sipho Seepe, a political analyst, shared his perspective on the recent unrest and the release of Jacob Zuma: “The devastating effects caused by the current Chief Justice’s unwillingness to disqualify himself during the Zondo Commission of Investigation come to an end with the release of former President Zuma from the prison system. As a result, in July 2021, more than 500 lives were lost.”

Prof. Seepe says that it is impossible to figure out how much damage was done to the economy when the highest court was accused of breaking the law and the constitution when it gave former president Zuma a 15-month prison sentence.

DA leader John Steenhuisen criticised President Cyril Ramaphosa for his role in the Zuma remission, accusing him of being “spineless” for using political motives to prevent the former president from going to prison and undermining the rule of law.

“It is obvious that if you are an ANC cadre, you will never be held accountable under Ramaphosa; this was a manipulation of the justice system, and we should replace this government with a new government next year. This sets a terrible example for what will happen to the names of those ANC members whose names appear in the Zondo Commission report, essentially meaning if you have an ANC membership in your pocket, you have a free pass from jail. Let’s unite to stop the ANC,” said Steenhuisen.

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