AbaThembu King Buyelekhaya Zwelibanzi Dalindyebo speaks to journalists after handing over a memorandum to government officials in Pretoria July 10, 2013. Dalindyebo, who rules over the Mandela clan, lodged a petition at Pretoria Union Building on Wednesday telling President Zuma to keep out of royal affairs after it was revealed that he may be de-throned. REUTERS/Sumaya Hisham (SOUTH AFRICA - Tags: POLITICS ROYALS)

Cape Town -

DA leader Helen Zille has defended the party’s controversial decision to accept abaThembu King Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo as a member, but said he would forfeit his membership if he lost his appeal against his conviction on charges that include culpable homicide.

The decision – which has been widely criticised as expedient and lampooned by cartoonists – had been a “pragmatic” one, Zille said.

The king’s announcement of his intention to join the DA had taken the party by surprise and confronted it with the choice of accepting or rejecting him in public.

Responding “below the radar” had not been an option since the king had broadcast his plan to join the party and issued a public invitation for it to sign him up, Zille wrote in her SA Today newsletter on Monday.

She and DA Eastern Cape leader Athol Trollip had discussed the situation and decided to give Dalindyebo the opportunity to “reconsider” after informing him of the “implications of joining the DA”.

Trollip had gone to see him and spelled out the DA principles and opposition to the Traditional Courts Bill.

Trollip had made it clear that if the Appeal Court upheld Dalindyebo’s criminal conviction, he would lose his DA membership.

Dalindyebo is appealing against his conviction on charges including arson, kidnapping, assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm and culpable homicide.

UCT law professor Pierre de Vos pointed out in his blog that the DA constitution said a member of the party automatically loses that membership if convicted of any offence listed in Schedule 1, 2, 5, 6 or 7 of the Criminal Procedure Act – and stressed that this included culpable homicide, kidnapping and assault “when a dangerous wound is inflicted”.

Previously, the DA had called for President Jacob Zuma, when he was the deputy president, to be fired when his former financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, was convicted, despite Zuma himself not having been convicted of any offence.

But Zille said the DA had welcomed Dalindyebo because no one else who joined the party as an ordinary member was subject to an ideology test or “due diligence” investigation.

“That hurdle only comes if you wish to become a DA public representative. There is a huge difference.”

The party faced the conundrum of trying to stay “ideologically pure”, while “growing quickly enough to win elections in time to save South Africa’s democracy”, Zille said.

Politics involved converting opponents, “not creating impenetrable barriers to entry” and the party’s “core mandate” was to win more votes in order to win elections “so that we can implement our policies, to better serve all South Africans”.

While there was a risk in growing too fast and of becoming like the ANC – “focused exclusively on holding together warring factions, divided on values, principles and policies” – the DA had faced this challenge before after the merger with the New National Party and had been forced to “split to find its centre again”.

It had since continued to increase its support and “we must keep making this circle bigger”, Zille said.

“If we are serious about women’s rights, for example, it makes more sense to convert the king than to bar him.”

This was “politics in the real world”, or “realpolitik”, and time would tell whether it had been the right choice.

“We did our calculations carefully, not merely in terms of votes, but in terms of our ‘conversion’ model,” Zille said.

The DA had given Dalindyebo the benefit of the doubt, so it could “open the door in deep rural South Africa to advancing the values and principles of the ‘open, opportunity society for all’”.

“Now that the door is open, we will walk through it,” Zille wrote.

Political Bureau