The Democratic Alliance leadership in the KwaZulu-Natal province was expected on Wednesday night to demand that provincial chair Dean Macpherson retract controversial election posters in Phoenix, which referred to residents who moved to defend the area during violence in July as “heroes”.
Thirty-six people were killed in Phoenix during the riots which President Cyril Ramaphosa called an attempt at an insurrection.
The DA posters, which read “The ANC called you racists” and “The DA calls you heroes”, went up on Monday in Phoenix, northwest of Durban, where tensions flared after Indian residents were accused of racially profiling black people as potential looters in their defence of the area.
According to the DA, there were plans to put up 100 sets of the posters in other parts of the city. Even as controversy brewed around the posters this week, Macpherson defended them, saying the message had been approved by the municipality.
The Mail & Guardian has been told that the posters went out with the knowledge of both national and provincial leaders.
Macpherson, who was also party leader John Steenhuisen’s campaign head when he was vying for the top DA job, is said to have received the backing of the party’s top leaders in the matter. Steenhuisen has also publicly defended the election posters during media interviews.
But the M&G spoke to two DA provincial leaders and one national leader who all said the posters had damaged the DA’s campaign for the 1 November local government elections nationally and Macpherson would be called to account for them. They said this was evident during campaigning in Gauteng on Wednesday.
According to the well-placed party insiders, DA leaders were expected to demand during Wednesday night’s meeting that Macpherson make a public apology or face disciplinary action.
“We have called a meeting tonight because this has affected all campaigns,”one party leader said. “Many in the provincial executive were not aware of these posters and now we have to answer for them. The people involved must [be brought to] account. This did not go through the province and yet it has the potential to jeopardise our entire campaign. The last thing we want is for KwaZulu-Natal to be blamed for the DA sinking the campaign.”
Another provincial leader said that while the DA’s top brass would likely shield Macpherson from any consequences, he owed the party an explanation.
“When I saw the posters, I thought it was just politics,” they said. “I did not think that we were responsible. If we don’t take hold of this now, we will end up having to go back to defending our race policy. We can’t afford that in these elections so he definitely needs to take those posters down with immediate effect.”
Macpherson doubled down on the decision to put up the posters on Tuesday, telling the M&G: “They do not speak to race or identity at all. They speak to the fact that the ANC has spent the past few months since the riots — which were caused by their internal battles spilling over into the streets — calling anyone who defended their homes, their businesses and their families racist.”
“That is what the ANC has been saying since July. They cannot walk away from that,”’ Macpherson said. “People who did what the state should have done are not racist. They are in fact heroes.”
Macpherson is said to be arguing that the DA will most likely gain 60% of the Indian vote but only 10% of the black vote in the province.