The Zille column Maimane didn't approve, and their deteriorating relationship

Helen Zille was referred to the Democratic Alliance's federal legal commission in March after public backlash against her tweets on colonialism. (Paul Botes, M&G)

Helen Zille was referred to the Democratic Alliance's federal legal commission in March after public backlash against her tweets on colonialism. (Paul Botes, M&G)

Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane has not vetted any of Western Cape Premier Helen Zille’s opinion pieces on colonialism, despite Zille tweeting that her comments were submitted to his office before they were published.

Mabine Seabe, the spokesperson for Maimane, told the Mail & Guardian on Monday that Zille is expected to communicate only on “government related issues”.

On April 30, Zille wrote a piece for the Sunday Times newspaper headlined “White-bashing cancer destroys SA from within, says Zille”. She was responding to a column written by Professor Charles Ngwena about her controversial tweets in March that colonialism was not ” only negative”.

Seabe said: “The Sunday Times column in question was not approved by him [Maimane] or his office.” 

Seabe’s comments contradict Zille’s earlier tweet which suggested Maimane had approved the column before it was published.

In her responding column, Zille questioned why she was being targeted for her comments on colonialism. The premier quoted black academic and historian Maanda Mulaudzi, who wrote a paragraph on the effect of colonialism in enabling Africa to engage with the rest of the world. 

In a letter to the Sunday Times, Mulaudzi responded, saying Zille had failed to quote the preceding paragraph detailing the atrocities of colonialism.
He added that Zille had failed to mention the other authors, who were white, and that she had singled out him because he is black.

Tensions rise between Maimane and Zille
The latest round of tweets from Zille have seemingly heightened tensions between the premier and Maimane. In response to her tweet that her column had been submitted to his office for vetting, Maimane said on Twitter that he only “dealt with” the column published by the Daily Maverick

In that column, published on May 2, Zille condemns Fallists who “race-shame” black and white students. It came after the University of Cape Town’s student council elections, which saw the Economic Freedom Fighters Student Command party emerge victorious. The Democratic Alliance Student Organisation party did not run for election.

Maimane “looked over” the Daily Maverick column despite Seabe saying Zille was expected to communicate only on government issues as per the DA’s policy.

Maimane refuted Zille’s suggestion that his office had vetted her Sunday Times column, and had not, therefore, approved it. Seabe said that Maimane found Zille’s views on colonialism “offensive”.

“[Maimane] neither supports nor endorses in any way the views as expressed by the premier of the Western Cape, Ms Helen Zille, on colonialism. He has, in fact, distanced himself and the party from said views,” Seabe said.

On April 28, two days before the Sunday Times column was published, Maimane told Eyewitness news that his relationship with Zille was not easy.

“Our relationship is difficult, no doubt about that,” he said.

He added that he would be willing to take action against her: “I have respect for Helen Zille. I think she has served South Africa but even in this instance where she has taken action, where I think it’s inappropriate, I will take action against her.”

The DA leader has come under increasing pressure to act decisively against Zille. Maimane referred Zille to the DA’s disciplinary bod, the federal legal commission, in March after public backlash against her tweets on colonialism.

The party has yet to communicate the findings of their investigation. James Selfe, chair of the DA’s federal executive, had not responded the M&G‘s questions at the time of publishing.

Zille has apologised for her initial tweets on colonialism but has continued to write that it had both positive and negative effects in columns and on Twitter. 

Ra'eesa Pather

Ra'eesa Pather

Ra’eesa Pather is a general news journalist with the Mail & Guardian’s online team. She cut her teeth at The Daily Vox in Cape Town before moving to Johannesburg and joining the M&G. She's written about memory, race and gender in columns and features, and has dabbled in photography. Read more from Ra'eesa Pather

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