Malema may thaw on Zille issue after 'rare' apology

Genuinely sorry: Helen Zille has apologised for her tweet, saying she recognised it was insensitive to South Africans who suffered as a result of colonial oppression. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

Genuinely sorry: Helen Zille has apologised for her tweet, saying she recognised it was insensitive to South Africans who suffered as a result of colonial oppression. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leaders will meet on Monday to discuss whether to withdraw the party’s support for the Democratic Alliance in some municipalities after the DA ignored its calls to fire Western Cape Premier Helen Zille for her controversial colonialism tweets.

The EFF’s support for the DA in Mogale City municipality, Tshwane and Johannesburg metros enabled the DA to secure a majority in these councils and to unseat the ANC.

Talking to the Mail & Guardian, EFF leader Julius Malema displayed a softer stance than reflected in comments he made a week before, when he threatened to withdraw his party’s support for the DA in municipalities where it had voting agreements with the EFF if the DA failed to remove Zille as premier.

He said the DA did not consult his party prior to reaching a settlement with Zille, which allowed her to retain her position as premier but saw her stepping down from all party decision-making structures.

“We’ve seen the [DA] press conference and we are going to have our meeting on Monday next week. And we’ll make a reflection so we can see how we proceed,” said Malema.

He said his party had noted the DA’s decision to force Zille to issue an unreserved apology – a move he described as significant. He said the EFF would consider this and various other factors before reaching any decision on whether to withdraw its support for the DA.

“It’s very rare to get a political leader to apologise. It’s not easy. [The DA] moved a step ahead to get her to apologise, is that not fair enough? So we’re going to get that [at the meeting],” Malema said.

On Tuesday, Zille, who, since March, had defended her tweets on the positive aspects of colonialism, apologised for her “insensitive actions”.

When asked why she was apologising after months of defending her tweets, Zille said: “I did hurt a lot of people and I believe that I am an empathetic person and I don’t want to hurt anybody. People say very hurtful things to me but that is not an excuse for me to say hurtful things to people.”

Zille said she did not want to sabotage the DA’s political project ahead of the 2019 general elections and also apologised to party leader Mmusi Maimane for undermining his leadership.

In her infamous tweet, Zille said: “For those claiming legacy of colonialism was ONLY negative, think of our independent judiciary, transport infrastructure, piped water etc.”

Last week she was suspended pending the outcome of her disciplinary hearing for bringing the party into disrepute. At the time she refused to go down without a fight and said she was considering taking legal action over the manner in which she was suspended. The prospect of protracted legal action was cited by Maimane as one of the reasons for opting for a settlement.

Although the party’s ability to force Zille to apologise was seen as a noteworthy step by Malema, the ANC was less than impressed by the decision, saying: “The DA has missed an opportunity to give effect to their now clearly meaningless statements about transformation and inclusiveness. Whilst the party will routinely crisscross the country in an effort to woo black voters; they are unwilling to wean themselves off their traditional white and conservative base.”

Malema and Maimane agreed it was not compulsory for the DA to give the EFF prior warning of its decision to settle with Zille, even with a voting agreement in place.

“Many other political leaders have said things that are completely outrageous … even the leader of the EFF has said things that I think fall foul of the Constitution of the republic,” Maimane said. “I don’t get involved in the EFF’s processes.”

Malema maintained there was no relationship between the EFF and the DA “except the one that we see in public when we’ve got [a] march or a programme of the opposition. Other than that, we don’t strategise together, we don’t talk. Nothing.” – Additional reporting by Matuma Letsoalo

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