The Great DAQAby Lindokuhle Nkosi / 30.08.2011
“I have also learnt that Twitter’s 140-character limit is more conducive to repeating (Paris) Hilton’s hallucinations than debating complex policy issues.” – Helen Zille.
On the 14th of August, the Sunday Times ran a review article on a Twitter debate that occurred between renowned South African singer, Simphiwe Dana, and the head of the DA, Helen Zille. In the piece, Zille laments the 140-character limit of the social media platform, and yet a few weeks later, the DA holds an open Q&A session on the exact same medium. But is this an honest attempt at open communication, or the DA taking another crack at imitating Obama-style electioneering tactics.
The ironies of holding a debate on Twitter in the interests of fostering inclusive national debate are obvious, especially a fortnight after mentioning that Twitter was an insufficient host for this kind of conversation. But still, at 19h30 on the 28th of August she tweeted: Hi Everyone, I am here waiting for your questions. Remember the Hashtag #DAQA.
Let’s not forget the hashtag. The content of the questions seemed less important than ensuring the DA became a trending topic. Suggestions made by Twitter users a few weeks back for the DA to hold a public meeting to discuss the management of the City of Cape Town were largely ignored, and in turn the party responded with a socially exclusive Twitter exercise.
A debate mainly accessible to the middle-class, because, well, if you are not privileged enough to have smartphone Twitter access, then your opinion won’t matter. Was this really about accessibility and accountability; or just a cyber PR campaign. Perhaps the DA Youth South Peninsular Leader, Alex Lansdowne’s tweets can offer some insight:
But perhaps the most contentious issue to arise from the #DAQA Twitter experiment was that the party seemed unwilling to engage with certain lines of questioning and branded them, rather conveniently, as “trolls”. An act that turned the event into a DA propaganda exercise.
Instead Zille responded to user who asked what the best part of her weekend was, and what soccer team she supported (Pirates, and ALL the Cape Town teams, if you’re interested) but then told fellow user Unathi Kondile “I am busy answering important questions from people who are serious about the future” when asked about black representation within the DA.
Throughout the night, the DA evaded issues of transformation, and refused to answer any queries pertaining to its mainly white management. Generally, the responses were no different from the daily drivel of politicking and non-specific rhetoric we have heard from every politician ad infinitum.
In a phonecall to the DA’s Media department, I was told by Priya Reddy that they have no official stance on the DAQA session. “Whatever happened, happened. You can just follow the thread on Twitter”. Perhaps the session was most aptly summed up by a knock-off Hellen Zille account: