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It Is Clear That Zille Wields Major Power In A Party She No Longer Leads

The manner in which the DA dealt with Helen Zille's tweets, weakened a party that already does not hold enough legitimacy as the main opposition.

19/06/2017 03:56 SAST | Updated 19/06/2017 06:29 SAST
Mike Hutchings/ Reuters
Premier of the Western Cape, Helen Zille arrives for President Jacob Zuma's Sate of the Nation address at the opening session of Parliament in Cape Town, February 12, 2015.

I would like to focus on how the DA as an organisation responded to Helen Zille jumping on a plane and making inexcusable and ridiculous comments about colonialism. Unfortunately, I must begin by reiterating what so many others have said because, the manner in which the DA dealt with these views coming from one of their seniors, gave no comfort that they indeed believe that colonialism was a terrible and inexcusable thing. Please, allow me a paragraph to do this before I jump into it.

Colonialism resulted in the slavery of millions, the genocide of millions, atrocious human rights abuses, social inequalities and psychological damage whose legacies we are still struggling to resolve today. The "advancements" could have been reached in other ways. The colonialists chose the worst possible way and we are still paying for it today and will pay for it for generations to come.

The manner in which the DA dealt with Helen Zille's tweets was shockingly un-strategic for a political organisation and frankly, it weakened a party that already does not hold enough legitimacy as the main opposition at a time in this country where we need a strong opposition. There are three things that went fundamentally wrong with their approach and suggested to me that they do not have a true understanding of how they are perceived or how to get around this issue.

First, they lacked immediate and swift action. Instead of the DA coming out as one party and denouncing the statements, the voices of individuals in the party came out far stronger and clearer against the tweets. This left an unanswered question lingering: Where in fact does the DA stand in this matter? To be asking a question like that of a party that claims to be representative of a diverse set of South Africa's people is hugely damaging.

Second, they undermined their own leader. Since he took the position, many have argued the Mmusi Maimane is merely the figurehead. The puppet in the forefront to make it look like the DA is transformed in its leadership and thinking. This argument was strengthened when a decision by the leader to suspend Helen Zille was followed shortly by a statement by the party that she was not in fact suspended yet but awaiting suspension. Here there are two questions that linger: Does the leader of the party not know what protocols to follow and/or was the leader of the party overruled by the real 'behind the scenes' leaders of the party?

Finally, they didn't make the sacrifice of decisively acting against and firing Helen Zille. This point is down to pure calculation. Helen Zille is at the end of her career. She has made controversial and inappropriate comments on Twitter for years now and this was a great opportunity for the party to use her as an example of how they stand united and against statements like these despite who made them. Instead, they chose to show that she still wields major power (possibly more than Mmusi himself) in an organisation that she no longer leads.

They took a fantastic opportunity to strengthen the party and turned it into a weak moment that left more damaging questions about how the organisation runs than what it should have.

Even more than that, it gave the perception that there seems to be a club of untouchables that she belongs to within the party. Instead, an apology was made weeks later and by then it was perceived as clearly being pressured because someone realised that she needed to give something in order for her to keep her position.

I cannot purport to know what happens in the DA, where the power lies or who makes the ultimate decisions. However, what I witnessed in how this matter unfolded was a fantastic case study into why people do not trust the DA. This was a golden opportunity for the DA to be ruthlessly strategic in their approach and gain much-needed ground in securing the trust of people who legitimately do not trust the organisation. They took a fantastic opportunity to strengthen the party and turned it into a weak moment that left more damaging questions about how the organisation runs than what it should have.

Opposition politics plays a significant role in this country and around the world. It is the opposition that is meant to breathe down the neck of ruling parties making them fear their position in the next election, so much so that representation of the people and delivery to the people are key to winning. It is the opposition that looks over the shoulder of ruling parties offering counter arguments and alternatives to how things work in the hope of being elected next. When the opposition simply does not get it, then the whole system is weakened and that is doing, even more, damage to this country at a time when we really do not need it.

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