Zille's views on colonialism are set to divide the DA

Western Cape premier Helen Zille. (Paul Botes, M&G)

Western Cape premier Helen Zille. (Paul Botes, M&G)

The Democratic Alliance is in a quandary over whether to discipline its former leader, Helen Zille, after she appeared to defend colonialism in a Twitter posting.

“For those claiming legacy of colonialism was only negative, think of our independent judiciary, transport, infrastructure, piped water etc,” said Zille, who is premier of the DA-run Western Cape province. “Would we have had a transition into specialised health care and medication without colonial influence. Just be honest please.”

Zille later apologised for her comments, but they offended many black South Africans whose ancestors lost their land and civil rights under colonial rule and continue to feel the effects of its legacy.
While a failure to discipline Zille could frustrate the DA’s ambitions of securing a greater share of the black vote in national elections in 2019, doing so could cost it the support of white and mixed-race voters in the Western Cape, where Zille has strong backing.

The DA won 27% of the vote in municipal elections in August last year, and together with other opposition parties seized control of several major cities, including Johannesburg and Pretoria, from the ruling ANC.

“The DA needs to firmly distance itself from these comments,” Keith Gotschalk, a retired politics lecturer, who taught at the University of the Western Cape, said by phone in Monday. “Zille is arguably the second-most powerful person in the party and being premier of the Western Cape gives her great standing. I’d be surprised if the DA would go so far as to order her to resign.”

Mmusi Maimane, who succeeded Zille as DA leader in 2015, distanced himself from Zille’s comments and ordered her to face an official inquiry. The matter is still being investigated, according to Glynnis Breytenbach, chairperson of the DA’s federal legal commission.

“No decision has yet been taken about charges,” she said by phone. “Once the investigation is finalised, I forward the report to the leadership and they must decide whether there will be charges or not.” – Bloomberg

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