28/07/2012.Democratic Alliance parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko and leader of the Democratic Alliance Helen Zille have a chat after the launch of the party's economic policy and jobs plan. Picture: Masi Losi

Cape Town - DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko “got it completely wrong” with regards to the party’s stance on economic equality legislation, says party leader Helen Zille.

Zille described the public policy spat a “plane crash”.

Zille, speaking at the Cape Town Press Club on Thursday, said: “There was absolutely no excuse for the DA supporting Verwoerdian measures like that.” This was why the party needed to reject the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) Bill and the Employment Equity Amendment Bill.

The DA this week tried unsuccessfully to effect amendments to the Employment Equity Bill in a National Council of Provinces (NCOP) committee and save face after it voted for it in the National Assembly only to see MPs rebuked by Zille.

Asked whether the internal fallout had made her rethink vague plans to step down as party leader in 2015 and possibly hand the reins to Mazibuko, she answered: “As soon as somebody else can do this job better than me, I will leave and I will do something else for the cause.”

Ultimately, the revised legislative regime would impose “rigid racial-based quotas”, she said.

Coercive equity quotas were a Verwoerdian wrong the DA should not and would not support.

Zille was trying to clear up the DA’s public policy spat on economic equality legislation, which she has termed a “plane crash” and which has pitted her against Mazibuko and the caucus.

“When we mess up, I’m the first to say, ‘sorry, that was a mistake; we will rectify it for these reasons’,” Zille told the press club.

Zille steered the DA into a legislative U-turn after it voted in favour of the bills in the National Assembly and told Sapa of Mazibuko’s support for the measures: “She got it completely wrong.”

On Thursday, Zille set out a highly nuanced position on affirmative action, saying the party, in the words of one of its billboard slogans, “supports BEE that creates jobs, not billionaires”.

Zille said this was why the party initially voted in favour of the BBBEE bill – it created incentives for employing previously disadvantaged individuals but did not resort to coercive measures that would scare off investors.

It changed its stance and took a stand against it in the NCOP because, she said, Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies reneged on assurances on the code of good practice attached to the bill.

One of the most objectionable provisions in the code in her opinion was the threshold for determining the extent to which a beneficiary could profit from share transfers.

Instead of dropping the threshold to R10 million, as Davies had promised DA MPs, it was raised to R50m.

The increase made the bill a recipe for entrenching “race-based crony enrichment”.

When the bill was sent back to the National Assembly this week because the NCOP had made changes, the DA voted against it.

On the equity bill, Zille said, the DA’s true position was always abundantly clear, despite how MPs voted.

It would not support any law that sought to impose race quotas through “draconian penalties” imposed by unelected officials.

The press club gathering took place at the elite Kelvin Grove Club in DA heartland and Zille took care to explain the party’s shift from liberal individualism to a more “substantive” approach that allowed for affirmative action.

“We believe it is also part of the state’s role to provide a ladder and for some people the rungs of that ladder have to be closer because they don’t start at the same place… we are trying to reconcile that with our other fundamental beliefs.”

Zille insisted that there was no “flip-flop” within her party on employment equity, despite the confusion that saw her pitted against her caucus.

The DA’s economic plan was the fastest route to broad-based black economic empowerment, as it would enable the country to create 5.8 million new jobs and decrease unemployment by 11 percent by 2025.

Cape Argus