South African politician and Western Cape Premier Helen Zille has come under fire on social media over her comments defending of colonialism saying the system wasn’t bad in its entirety, and it had its benefits for Black people. The controversial statements insinuate that Black people should be somehow thankful for colonization.

The former Democratic Alliance (DA) leader made the comments today (Thursday) while at the airport, and the remarks have been criticized by social media users across the continent, seen as racist, offensive, and sanitizing colonialism. In a series of tweets, Zille wrote: “Getting onto an aeroplane now and won’t get onto the Wi-Fi so that I can cut off those who think EVERY aspect of colonial legacy was bad.”

“For those claiming legacy of colonialism was ONLY negative, think of our independent judiciary, transport infrastructure, piped water etc.” Zille tweeted.

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The former DA leader wasn’t done, in another tweet she queries, “Would we have had a transition into specialised health care and medication without colonial influence? Just be honest, please”.

The comments have ignited an uproar, and madam Zille quickly posted a retraction, tweeting: “I apologise unreservedly for a tweet that may have come across as a defence of colonialism. It was not”.

DA members during the launch of the party’s election manifesto at Polokwane Showgrounds on February 23, 2014 in Polokwane, South Africa. Helen Zille promised to create six million permanent jobs if the DA won this year’s general elections. However, the party is seen by many as racist. Picture: Gallo Images /Foto24 / Alet Pretorius

A number of DA members including its leader Mmusi Maimane, and politician Mbali Ntuli have commented on the patronizing, and irresponsible remarks, although Maimane did not directly quote Zille.

Maimane tweeted: “Let’s make this clear: Colonialism, like Apartheid, was a system of oppression and subjugation. It can never be justified”.

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The issue of the legacy of colonialism is a divisive and sensitive topic in Africa. In 2008, a British-born South African columnist, David Bullard, caused an outrage writing a column in the Sunday Times arguing that South Africa should be grateful for colonialism. The column, titled Uncolonised Africa wouldn’t know what it was missing, described what South Africa would have looked like had the “evil white man” not come “to disturb the rustic idyll of the early black settlers”.

Bullard’s column was seen as very offensive by many South Africans, and he was subsequently fired despite his contestation that the column wasn’t racist but rather a fictional piece.

Social media responses to Zille’s tweets