South Africa opposition rocked by colonialism tweet
South Africa's main opposition party was plunged into a racism dispute on Thursday after a provincial leader tweeted that colonialism had brought benefits including clean water.
Helen Zille, former leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA) party and the current premier of the Western Cape, apologised for the tweet, which unleashed fierce criticism from her own party and opponents.
"For those claiming legacy of colonialism was ONLY negative, think of our independent judiciary, transport infrastructure, piped water," she wrote on Twitter.
The DA, which won 22 percent of the vote in 2014's general election, has been gaining popularity and trying to shed its image as a "white" party.
But efforts to broaden its appeal among black voters have been bruised by social media scandals, and the party has struggled to present itself as a credible alternative to the ruling ANC.
"You are (a) right-wing white supremacist," tweeted ANC spokesman Zizi Kodwa.
He described the remarks by Zille, 66, a white former anti-apartheid activist, as "an insult to black people" who "still experience effects of colonialism."
Mmusi Maimane, the DA leader, criticised Zille, saying that "colonialism, like apartheid, was a system of oppression and subjugation. It can never be justified".
The party tried to damp down fury, issuing a statement saying colonialism "oppressed millions of people" and saying Zille would face a disciplinary hearing.
Maimane, who is black, succeeded Zille in 2015.
The DA promotes itself as a liberal, equal opportunity party -- as opposed to the affirmative action policies advocated by the ANC to overcome the legacy of white-minority rule.
The party has its roots in the now defunct Progressive Party, co-founded by the late anti-apartheid activist Helen Suzman in 1959.
The leftist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) called for Zille's removal from office, describing her as "a cold hearted racist".
South Africa was colonised by both the Dutch and British. The Dutch East India Company established the first colony in 1652.
South Africa will hold general elections next year.