Opposition party Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Mmusi Maimane on Saturday announced the suspension of former party leader, and Western Cape premier Helen Zille over her controversial tweets about colonialism.
Zille sparked public outcry over a series of social media posts that suggested colonialism brought benefits to the country.
Her comments drew strong criticism from political opponents and those within her own party, as well as on social media.
Maimane, who took over from Zille in 2015 to become the DA’s first black leader, criticized his predecessor, tweeting “colonialism, like apartheid, was a system of oppression and subjugation. It can never be justified”. Maimane told local media that Zille’s tweets were “completely unacceptable and indefensible”.
In a statement, the party that reiterated Maimane’ s remarks, saying colonialism “oppressed millions of people and violated human rights in a cruel and inhumane way” has since suspended its former leader as her remarks undermined its reconciliation project and affected the party’s electoral chances. The DA won 22% of the vote in the 2014 general election, coming second to the governingAfrican National Congress (ANC). It is hoping to build on its success in local polls in 2016 as it prepares for the presidential election due in 2019.
Zille was charged by the DA in March for “bringing the party into disrepute and damaging the party” after she published a number of tweets where she said colonialism was not all negative. She may be suspended from all party activities but retain her elected post as premier of Western Cape Province, a DA stronghold and the only province not governed by the ANC pending the outcome of her disciplinary hearing. Maimane told the media on Saturday that Zille would not be removed as premier because that was a “legislative matter”.
The DA leader said that he asked Zille to tender an unreserved apology to both South Africa and the DA for the damage she has done. But she unfortunately, declined. However, after the criticism, she sent a tweet saying: “I apologize unreservedly for a tweet that may have come across as a defense of colonialism. It was not.”
The ANC, South Africa’s governing social democratic political party urged the DA to immediately remove Zille as Western Cape premier, calling her tweets “reckless and ignorant claims”. Another opposition party the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), also demanded Zille to “step down” calling her remarks “cold-hearted racism”.
The DA has been gaining popularity and trying to shed its image as a “white” party before 2019’s presidential election. The party has been promoting itself as a liberal equal-opportunity party, but efforts to broaden its appeal among black voters have been hurt by social media scandals, and the party has struggled to present itself as a credible alternative to the ruling ANC.
It is clear that Maimane and Zille do not share the same attitude about the DA’s mission for 2019, Maimane said.
“In this period Zille has continued to damage the party with various pieces of communication that seek to undermine what we are trying to achieve,” he said.