DA leader Mmusi Maimane and Western Cape Premier Helen Zille. File picture: Willem Law/Independent Media
Cape Town – The DA is at a critical juncture, with growing calls for it to take a decisive step and get rid of Western Cape Premier Helen Zille, not only from the party but also from the provincial government.

The DA’s federal executive council on Saturday served Zille with a notice of intention to suspend her membership in the party.

She has until Tuesday to give reasons why she should not be suspended, pending the outcome of a disciplinary hearing into her tweets about colonialism.

Political analyst Ralph Mathekga said Zille had shown a lack of respect for DA leadership by continuing to take to the public domain her views, hence the party needed to take a clear stance.

“If they are suspending her from the party, why are they not extending that to her leadership role in the Western Cape government. Which is bigger than the other? That’s a twist we find hard to understand,” Mathekga said.

He said it is clear that Zille had become a liability and thought of herself as “larger than the DA”.

“The sooner they deal with the issue of the tweets the better. They have to expedite it. She will continue to divide the party even if they decide to keep her because there will always be a cost borne and I think a better cost they can live with is if they part ways, “ Mathekga added.

He said efforts by the DA to win black voters, as well as its integrity, were being undermined by Zille.

DA leader Mmusi Maimane said it wanted to unite South Africans as it strove to be the governing party in 2019, but that it had become clear that he and Zille held fundamentally different attitudes about the party’s mission.

During her term as a DA leader, Zille steered the party towards increasing its black membership. But her tweets on colonialism in March caused a countrywide stir.

“The way she takes to the public domain challenging her leaders, particularly Maimane, instead of raising issues within her party structures ... she callously handles them on the social media, even the racial issue. This is not a conduct befitting a leader,” Mathekga said.

Fellow analyst Daniel Silke agreed that this was a difficult period for Zille and her political career.

“Having been a former leader of the party and now serving as premier there shouldn’t be an intention to remain forever. This should be a lesson to others that when a former leader remains in a position for long it creates tension. They need to bow out and retire,” Silke said.

He also criticised the “clumsy” manner and the timing of Saturday’s announcement: “Why was it made this weekend? I suspect the reason was that Maimane wanted to show that he is his own man and can take decisive decisions, unlike the ANC on Jacob Zuma.”

Analyst Somadoda Fikeni warns that Zille would not go down without a fight. “She has shown open defiance and an appetite for a fight. They’re in for a long haul,” he said.

“It could not have been easy for the party to take a decision to consider suspending her; either that or it could forget winning black voters.”

The ANC and the EFF in the Western Cape welcomed the DA’s decision, and would also raise the matter in the provincial legislature on Thursday.

The parties have called for Zille’s suspension from the legislature, with the EFF’s Bernard Joseph saying that her possible suspension would be a mockery if it was not extended to her position as premier.

“They need to explain what they mean by the suspension. Are they saying that she can’t act in the political party activities, but trust her to represent it in government? It’s time for Zille to step down,” he said.

The ANC believes that if Zille was not fit to serve within the DA, then she isn’t fit to serve the people of the Western Cape.

“The suspension is a clear indication of no confidence in her. But Zille has already indicated that the decision of the federal executive to suspend her from the party, did not comply with the requirements of the party’s own federal constitution, which required that she be given time to make representations on the matter,” the party stated.

Zille said there was a contradiction between the content of a letter she had received from the chairman of the federal executive, James Selfe, and the statement issued by Maimane.

Selfe gave her until June 6 to provide reasons why she should not be suspended.

“However, Mr Maimane’s statement is unequivocal that the suspension is already operative,” Zille said.

“Furthermore, in the DA leader’s statement, his reason for why the federal executive committee took this decision is not the full story. This will emerge over time.

“It is not correct that I have refused to apologise. I have apologised publicly. What I have not agreed to do is plead guilty to charges of misconduct which I never committed. Because the DA stands for freedom and fairness, we need to follow due process of law, especially when this is initiated by the leader himself,” Zille said.

She was prepared to face a full disciplinary hearing however, and had not accepted that the DA had a right to find her guilty and penalise her even before her disciplinary hearing had taken place.

“I cannot be bullied into resigning or incriminating myself,” Zille said.

Weekend Argus