Dissent in DA about centre of power

The conclusion reached by the Democratic Alliance’s disciplinary arm in allowing Dianne Kohler Barnard to continue as a member of parliament (MP) has caused some dissent amongst the party’s top-most decision makers who indicate that the matter is far from over.

Yesterday the party’s federal legal commission overturned Kohler Barnard’s axing – a determination which was made by the DA’s federal executive (Fedex) a couple of months ago after she embarrassed the party by sharing a post praising apartheid-era President PW Botha on Facebook.

So whilst Kohler Barnard will be allowed to serve out her current term as MP, a statement by commission chair Glynnis Breytenbach says she will be expected to resign from all internally elected DA positions, pay a R20 000 fine and attend a social media course.

Fedex members spoke to the Mail & Guardian on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter. They said they were emailed last night where they were told that the issue was finalised and they would not be given final say. One member said his understanding was that they would be given the opportunity to review the commission’s decision as per the party’s constitution but a legal opinion sent to them via email vetoed that.

Another said he felt that Fedex’s authority was being undermined “because [the commission’s] actions show you that they are trying to take power away from the leadership.”

One questioned why the commission released a statement to the media before informing Fedex of the appeal’s outcome, while another warned: “This thing is causing divisions and the danger is that there’s going to be a fight in January when Fedex next meets.” The M&G understands that warring emails have been scurrying back-and-forth since last night over these developments and some members have been venting to each other over the phone.

DA Federal executive chair James Selfe said he took legal advice which saw fit to uphold the commission’s decision and therefore Fedex “no longer had a function” in the proceedings. “It can be taken to the High Court for review if anyone is upset,” he said. He declined to answer further questions and refused to provide any relevant documentation. Breytenbach’s and Kohler Barnard’s phones rang unanswered and neither responded to voicemail requests for comment.

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