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'Colonialism' tweets put Zille's career on the line

Politics
Cape Town - The latest controversial tweets by Western Cape Premier and notorious tweeterati Helen Zille could spell the end of her political career say analysts, as well as members of her party, the DA.

Her tweets about “positive aspects of colonialism” will probably see her hauled before a party disciplinary hearing.

This follows DA leader Mmusi Maimane referring Zille to the DA Federal Legal Commission (FLC) for having breached the party’s social media policy.

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LET’S BE CLEAR: DA leader Mmusi Maimane and Western Cape Premier Helen Zille together on an earlier occasion. Zille tweeted that colonialism wasn’t all bad, but Maimane responded: 'Like apartheid, colonialism was a system of oppression and subjugation that can never be justified'.Picture: Bhekikhaya Mabaso

Zille’s troubles started on Thursday morning when, en route to Cape Town from Singapore, she tweeted: “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.”

She was forced to retract her comment, saying later that she was not defending colonialism, after her tweets sparked outrage from Twitter followers and DA leaders.

And as the row intensified, the ANC and the EFF called on the DA to recall her.

DA federal council chairman James Selfe said an investigation by the FLC would determine if the matter would result in disciplinary charges being laid against her.

If she was charged, she would have to appear before a disciplinary panel, he said.

Political analyst Somadoda Fikeni suggested that Zille’s enemies in the party could use this opportunity to try to get rid of her - or she might decide to step down on her own.

DA members have distanced themselves from Helen Zille's statements on colonialism. 

“Zille has a fair number of enemies in the DA. People she has spoken out against will want to see this matter resolved and who have spoken out against her and (Diane) Kohler Barnard, who could say she was punished for simply sharing a tweet, whereas Zille created a tweet that led to this mess,” he said.

Barnard was initially expelled from the party after sharing a Facebook post which praised former apartheid-era president PW Botha.

She was later reinstated

“The DA is in a very awkward position. They simply cannot afford not to take action.

“They face the dilemma of giving her a slap on the wrist and risk being seen as the racist party they have been accused of being, and alienating their black constituency,” Fikeni said.

The Western Cape premier faces disciplinary action by the DA despite apologising for her tweets.

“And then there are those who are in Patricia de Lille’s camp who will want to use this opportunity as well.”

Cape Town mayor De Lille, alongside the party’s chief whip in the City of Cape Town, Shaun August, have also been referred to the FLC for the alleged leaking of documents relating to an investigation which found August had contravened the party’s procurement processes when acquiring T-shirts for campaigning during last year’s local government elections.

Fikeni said the fallout could see the premier deciding to step aside.

“She will always be reminded that she is a racist and it may start to affect the way she does her work at the provincial parliament. She might decide to step aside, citing the need to spend time with her family.”

Another analyst, Daniel Silke, said a recall was unlikely, but he pointed out this could be an opportunity for Maimane to dispel the notion that he is controlled by Zille.

“It is a very awkward situation, one that will be difficult for the party to deal with. Zille is premier of one of its stronghold provinces, but this is an opportunity for Maimane and the new leadership to put distance between themselves and the old guard with regard to the way they have dealt with these situations in the past.

“Whatever the outcome, the very swift action by Maimane to refer the matter to the commission shows a transition to a leadership who don’t tolerate these sort of utterances.

“This is an opportunity to show they are their own people - especially Maimane, with the constant criticism that he is only a puppet - by taking difficult steps in the motion of disciplinary hearing. It is an embarrassment for the premier to have to face this kind of action from her own party, a party that is very sensitive to these kinds of statements. Zille should know by now to avoid putting complex thoughts into 140 characters on Twitter. It has got her into trouble before and she has got herself into trouble once more.

“I don’t think a recall is likely at this stage. What we have is the ANC and the EFF playing politics and using this weakness in the party to their advantage.”

Weekend Argus

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