DA leader Helen Zille is flanked by Lindiwe Mazibuko and Mmusi Maimane. File picture: Masi Losi

Cape Town - The DA’s two most senior lieutenants have defended Helen Zille against a fresh attack on her leadership by a former party insider.

This comes in the wake of the dramatic departure of parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko.

With the young DA star headed for Harvard, repeated mention was made of an initial disagreement between the two women over looming employment equity legislation last year. Zille reported on Monday that the divergence of views had since been resolved.

But the controversy deepened with the publication of a column by a former DA insider who said Mazibuko had been “viciously and brutally maligned and alienated inside the DA”.

Gareth van Onselen, formerly the DA’s executive director of innovation and special projects and now a journalist, wrote in Business Day: “There exists a single, dominant and authoritarian personality at the heart of the party. With that there exists too an organisational culture that has become weak and entirely subservient to the wishes of its leader; as a result, the party’s internal culture has become intolerant, paranoid, fearful, vengeful and malicious.”

Van Onselen further alleged Zille brooked no dissent, alleging: “Contrary opinions and difference are no longer valued as commodities, but viewed as threatening. Not only are they hesitantly expressed, if at all, when they are, they are crushed and the consequences send a clear and unambiguous message that dissent equals punishment, not engagement.”

On Monday night, Zille described Van Onselen’s claims that she had sabotaged Mazibuko as “bizarre” and “exactly the opposite of the truth”.

Zille was also on Monday night defended by Wilmot James, the DA’s federal chairman, who said: “I do not believe Helen Zille deliberately sabotaged Lindiwe Mazibuko’s career.”

James Selfe, chairman of the DA’s federal executive, said, in turn: “Politics is not for sissies. Political leaders each have their own style… Helen Zille has grown this party through three successive elections, to a position where it now enjoys 103 seats (National Assembly and National Council of Provinces).”

Explaining the process of electing a new DA parliamentary leader in Mazibuko’s place, Selfe said nominations would open on Monday and close on May 26. Elections were due on May 29 – those of parliamentary leader, deputy chief whip, and the chair and deputy chair of caucus.

As of Monday night, Mmusi Maimane was officially an MP-in-waiting after his name was submitted by the DA to the IEC by the 6pm deadline.

Cape Argus