Zille says colonial legacy isn’t same as racism as she awaits suspension decision

ANALYSIS

The federal executive of the Democratic Alliance will decide on Wednesday whether Helen Zille is to be suspended from party activities. But as the party prepares the decide the Western Cape Premier’s fate, Zille is now saying colonial legacy is not linked to being racist.

DA federal executive chairperson James Selfe has confirmed that Zille sent the party a nine-page submission yesterday, motivating why she should not be suspended. This came after Zille received a notice from the DA over the weekend of the party’s intent to suspend her.  

The premier is facing disciplinary action for tweets she posted in March saying colonialism was not “only negative”. As the DA prepared to meet on Wednesday  to make a decision on her suspension, Zille spoke to radio presenter Thabiso Tema on PowerFM. She said the DA had not lost support because of her tweets, calling the claim a myth invented by opposition parties.

“I have apologised unreservedly twice – once in Parliament. All these myths that are being built up about the DA losing support and that I am unrepentant are myths of our political opponents and we should not pick them up because they are not true,” Zille said.

The tweets have led many South African to believe that Zille is racist for her lack of focus on the ways in which colonialism oppressed black South Africans for the gain of white people who claimed their land. But colonial legacy has nothing to do with racism, the premier said.

“To say that the legacy of colonialism was not only negative has nothing to do with racism. It’s very easy in South Africa to throw around words like racist and it’s a very serious accusation.”

She made no mention of how colonialists in South Africa had slaves and that many black South Africans remain dispossessed because of the legacy of colonialism.

Tema attempted to rebuff Zille’s argument, saying that the Holocaust could also be seen as not only negative. Zille’s family had fled Germany because of the Holocaust and she described them in the interview as “penniless refugees” who were not wealthy white Europeans. 

“Thabiso, there is a big difference between colonialism and the purposeful and deliberate genocidal project. Colonialism was very bad. The Holocaust was a deliberate and calculated attempt to murder 11 million people,” she said.

“The one thing I need to talk to you about, Thabiso, is the Holocaust because few people have lost so many direct relatives as I have.”

Although Zille initially denied that colonialism was also genocidal, the experiences of Khoi and San people in South Africa and Aborigines in Australia demonstrate the targeted ethnic killings by colonialists. Zille made mention of the genocidal killings of the Hereros in Namibia but she maintained that the genocidal atrocities committed by colonialists did not “equate” to the Holocaust.

The premier is still, however, confident that she retains much support and should be allowed to serve her remaining two years in office. Recent by-elections in the Western Cape, she said, show that the DA is still very much in power – and she believes that she helped them win. 

“The DA put me up very, very prominently as the premier candidate. People knew that if they voted DA, I would become the premier. I am not saying I’m indispensable to the DA and, yes, people vote for the DA, but when people vote for a premier, unlike the ANC, in the DA people know who they are voting for,” she said.

The DA’s internal battle about Zille and the tweets have sparked a rift between the premier and DA leader Mmusi Maimane. Over the weekend, Maimane announced that Zille had been placed on suspension, but the DA refuted his claim after Zille issued a statement saying the party had not given her time to make a submission.

The disciplinary hearings will begin on Friday. If Zille will be suspended, she will be banned from party activities until the disciplinary procedure concludes, but she will remain premier. 

Raeesa Pather
Raeesa Pather
Ra’eesa Pather is a Cape Town-based general news and features journalist.
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