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DA’s Van Damme gears for legal fight after Steenhuisen puts her on 'sabbatical'

Former DA spokesperson Phumzile van Damme. Picture: Courtney Africa/African News Agency (ANA)

Former DA spokesperson Phumzile van Damme. Picture: Courtney Africa/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Dec 6, 2020

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Durban - The battle lines have been drawn between DA leader John Steenhuisen and Phumzile van Damme, the party’s now former spokesperson on Communications and Digital Technologies, after the party’s leader gave Van Damme a sabbatical against her wishes.

Steenhuisen, leader of the official opposition party, said that the sabbatical that Van Damme was being sent on was as a result of her health although this coincidentally comes as Steenhuisen has reshuffled his party’s shadow cabinet and replaced Van Damme as spokesperson on communications by Zakhele Mbhele.

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But Steenhuisen, who was on a campaign trail in Durban on Saturday, defended his decision to axe Van Damme and put her on a sabbatical.

He said the decision was not done with malice and only with her health as a priority.

"It is well-known that her health has been a challenge, so the break was offered to her as a way to recoup her strength, but it is unfortunate that she has reacted the way that she has.

“As a leader I want my team to be at full strength and she has said her condition worsens with stress, so I thought it would be ideal to give her a break,” said Steenhuisen.

“Parliament has also risen and will only sit in the new year after she has been given the chance to gather her strength," said Steenhuisen.

He added that if Van Damme did not want to take the sabbatical, that was her prerogative, but as leader it was his prerogative to make party decisions.

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"She decided against it and that is fine, but I am not going to be expected to put her in a front line position. She has viewed the decision in a negative light but it was truly made in consultation with the caucus leadership team and with her best interests at heart," said Steenhuisen.

Taking to Twitter on Friday, Van Damme revealed that Steenhuisen had informed her that he was granting her a sabbatical although she had not requested it.

“He merely informed me. I could walk away, but I choose to stay, and challenge it on principle. I’ve been open about being sick. I’ve been on sick leave for 3 months, ending 15 Dec. I informed the Chief Whip, I’d still focus on my committee work while on sick leave. I disclosed my illness even though I didn’t need to. So it is being used against me to sideline me. K (sic).

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“Did I drop the ball while I was sick? No. Even when I was sick, like I do when I am well, did I still outperform many of my colleagues? Yes. I asked for no sabbatical. I determine my health. My Drs. determine my health. Not my employer,” said Van Damme.

Continuing in a series of Tweets, Van Damme said that she had a firm handle on her health and had limited her work to only portfolio committee related work while she was sick, adding that she had handled that “just fine” and excelled.

“During that time I forced Stella to appoint a full ICASA board. I got Parliament to stop interfering in the SABC. I got the Minister to stop interfering in the SABC. If he wanted to move me as is his prerogative he should’ve done so without trying to control my life and my body,” said Van Damme.

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However, after the DA yesterday insisted that the sabbatical was for her own good, Van Damme Tweeted: “I intend to abide by this instruction. I’m on sabbatical until 30 March 2021 as instructed. The party and I will talk through my lawyers in 2021.

“But yesses what I am going to do during this sabbatical I have been forced on. Even when I was sick I worked. I now wish I had applied to the famous Harvard for le (sic) 3 months.”

Steenhuisen said the changes in his shadow cabinet were made with two questions in mind: who performed during the Covid-19 period and who showed huge abilities in their portfolios.

Political Bureau

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