It’s Zille against Maimane, which means it’s her against the rest of the DA over those colonialism tweets.
Helen Zille, the embattled premier of the Western Cape and former leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA), will not go quietly into the night and is preparing a comprehensive defence of her controversial tweets about colonialism.
She will apparently argue that she did not defend colonialism or apartheid in any form, that her sentiments were twisted and misconstrued and that her vilification is driven by “mob justice”. Her arguments also centre around respect for the rule of law and due process and a contention that she must be awarded the opportunity to be judged on her actual words and not just the “national calamity” which it caused.
Zille was last week criticised after she sent out a series of tweets that were widely interpreted as defending aspects of colonialism. The DA’s federal legal commission (FLC) will this weekend decide whether or not she should be disciplined.
According to seven senior sources in the party, including close associates, long-time supporters and active opponents of Zille, in and outside of the parliamentary caucus and national leadership:
- Party leader Mmusi Maimane, who was mentored by Zille before she stood down in favour of him, is said to be “genuinely angered” at his predecessor’s tweets;
- An opinion piece, in which she tries to contextualise her tweets and seemingly berates the DA’s leadership, seriously exacerbated the situation;
- A proposal that she steps down, with the party undertaking to defend her legacy, is being discussed and will be made to her; and
- There is broad agreement that her tweets and the subsequent fallout did serious damage to the party and that she must be subjected to a “harsh” penalty.
Zille’s supporters in the party’s top echelons seem distraught at the fallout her tweets caused and accept she might not survive a disciplinary process. Her enemies however believe she has served her purpose and that Maimane must be seen to distance himself from her in order to mould the party in his image.
“Emotions are raw at the moment. She’s a great figure and to see it come to this is very painful for many who have worked closely with her,” an experienced and senior MP, who supports Zille, told Huffington Post South Africa.
The MP added that Zille “can in no way be branded a racist, but the party has no choice but to mete out a heavy penalty”.
“She understands the bigger picture, she knows what’s at stake, but she will fight this. The best possible outcome is for her to pre-empt what could become a messy fight and stand down,” the MP said. “But she won’t.”
Another senior DA leader, who was involved in the debate around Maimane’s accession to the leadership position and is sympathetic to Zille, said it is possible that a deal might be cut which would prevent a “nasty” fight, but that it is not yet on the table.
According to this source the storm around the initial tweets could have been weathered, but the subsequent opinion piece in which she defended them was perceived as an attack on Maimane. “Nobody in the party took kindly to that,” the source said. Zille, in a piece published on The Daily Maverick, warned the DA should beware not to “swallow every tenet, myth . . . of African racial nationalism”.
There is also agreement — among friend and foe alike — that it will be very difficult to convince Zille that her comments in themselves are damaging because she firmly believes they were taken out of context. Zille will “mount a powerful and persuasive” argument, according to sources. She feels hung out to dry by the party’s leadership. According to her it was the DA’s reaction, fuelled by a social media “lynch mob”, that caused the real damage, not her tweets.
“It’s just a tweet,” one ally said. “There’s no way you can construe Zille to be a racist. It’s just patently and empirically untrue.”
Another MP, who has been a long-time opponent of Zille, told HuffPost SA even though her actions are “a waste”, a calamity like this was “almost inevitable”.
This MP says Zille is incapable of understanding that the conflict is not between her and a faction in the party, but that it’s her against Maimane, which means it is her against the rest of the DA. Zille was supposed to adhere to an implicit understanding that she should stay out of national politics and focus on the Western Cape. “This was always going to happen. She has to go.”
Zille will meet the FLC chaired by MP Glynnis Breytenbach on the weekend. The FLC will forward a report to the federal executive, which will meet on April 22 and 23, where a decision about whether to charge the former leader will be taken.
According to this source she has forced the party to choose between the past and the future “and nobody will choose the former”.
DA caucus about Zille tweets ‘tense and emotional’
Philda Essop, Netwerk24
Helen Zille. (File, Schalk van Zuydam, AP)
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Zille addressed the 30-odd strong members at her own request, and the “robust and open” discussions which followed were apparently “tense” at times, Netwerk24 reported.
Her political career is in the balance because of her tweets that not all aspects of colonialism were bad.
The DA distanced itself from the tweets and immediately ordered an inquiry. Zille apologised.
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Members of political parties are not supposed to discuss what is said in caucus, because it is confidential.
However, one source told Netwerk24 that the meeting had been necessary and the DA MPs were very outspoken. “Everyone took part. It was an open, honest and robust discussion which, at times, was characterised by raw emotion.
“It was a serious meeting in which members emphasised the dangers of social media, as well as the impact the Zille tweets had on the DA because of the perceptions it created. People are concerned about what the fall-out will be for the party”
‘We know Helen isn’t a racist’
Another source described the meeting as “tense, emotional and sad”. One Member of the Provincial Parliament was apparently in tears.
“People could air their opinions openly and say how they felt. We are sad because we know Helen isn’t a racist. We do, however, know that there are people with other agendas.”
Zille was “calm and open for the criticism which came her way”, the source said. At the end, there was no bad blood.
Neither Zille, not her spokesperson, Michel Mpofu answered their cellphones on Thursday.
The chair of the DA’s legal commission, Advocate Glynnis Breytenbach, will be holding talks with Zille on Friday, after which she will make recommendations to the DA federal council about whether disciplinary action should be taken and what the charges should be.