Western Cape premier Helen Zille's recent tweets projecting a "good side" of colonialism pose danger to the Democratic Alliance's rule in Johannesburg, Tshwane and other municipalities. The series of Twitter gaffes may well push the EFF to the side of the ANC at the time when President Jacob Zuma appears to be extending an olive branch to Julius Malema.
Two of Zuma's reputed confidantes, Mpumalanga ANC chairperson David Mabuza and his KwaZulu-Natal counterpart Sihle Zikala, have both made calls for Malema to return to the ANC. This at the time when Zuma himself is almost parroting slogans and phrases made famous by Malema when he was ANC youth league president and later EFF leader. "Expropriation of land without compensation", "white monopoly capital", "radical economic transformation" and others have been repeated by Zuma more often than not of late.
Malema is on record stating that he'd "forgive" Zuma if the latter would expropriate land from whites and give it to blacks. This is one policy proposal to be debated at the forthcoming policy conference of the ANC that Zuma has been punting to party members. In fact, Zuma appears to be so enthusiastic about this proposal he is leaving a lot of his comrades behind. This was evident when the ANC in parliament voted to shoot down an EFF-sponsored motion to have the constitution amended to allow for expropriation of land without compensation. Not all ANC leaders are buying the idea.
Some of the building blocks of a politician's brand are their messages. The brand is the promise, and delivery to that promise constitutes the politician's reputation. Malema's brand is built around the messages Zuma is repeating now. This is akin to Zuma calling Malema's bluff. He has also categorically stated that he would never stand for another term as ANC president. There are fewer issues the two could fight over currently compared to this time last year.
In all likelihood Zuma's moves are shrewd political machinations. He has his own problems right now and he needs something to reenergise his support base. His choice of successor, former AU Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma's campaign is not leading comfortably, including in her home province Kwazulu-Natal. There are growing calls among some party structures for treasurer general Dr. Zweli Mkhize to run against Dlamini-Zuma and deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa for the top position. Mkhize could well do better than the two in KwaZulu-Natal as he has been ANC chairperson and premier only a few years ago. Malema probably sees it this way, hence the EFF's belligerent response to Mabuza's call.
Zille's tweets are damaging to the EFF's reputation. The EFF blocked the ANC's path to reclaiming some key metros and other municipalities following last year's local government elections by voting with the DA. It's not only the DA that is receiving hate mail at this time, the EFF too. They are accused of being in bed with the "racist" DA by the very ANC base they are trying to attract. This is a crisis for the EFF, one which may well see them withdraw their support for the DA at local government level.
The DA has also exposed itself to be having no clear positions on important issues like Apartheid, colonialism and whether everyone agrees that these were crimes against humanity. This is a serious oversight for a party whose bugbear is racism, quite like corruption is to the ANC.
The biggest headache must be that of Mmusi Maimane's, the DA leader. Zille's tweets come at a time when the DA's main constituencies may be feeling threatened by Zuma's latest radical rhetoric. Apart from occasional tweets and their stance against the failed EFF's motion in parliament, the DA doesn't seem to have work-shopped the challenge posed by Zuma's latest posture. As a result Maimane's voice has been relatively mute. Could this be the reason Zille saw the need to stand up and defend the legacy of white people in this country?
While the DA's response to the Zille scandal has been admirably quick and decisive, there's a limit to which the party can punish her. A summary dismissal would shake the DA's base to the core and Maimane is not guaranteed a victory in a standoff against Zille. Whatever sanctions the DA will impose on Zille, they must include taking away her Twitter account or subjecting her to some training on how a political leader handles social media.
Trolls regularly bait Zille. Being a bruiser, she gets sucked into the fights and pivots away from her messages, the building blocks of her brand and that of her administration. Defending colonialism isn't what DA strategists have in mind for her brand.
The DA has also exposed itself to be having no clear positions on important issues like Apartheid, colonialism and whether everyone agrees that these were crimes against humanity. This is a serious oversight for a party whose bugbear is racism, quite like corruption is to the ANC. Imagine an ANC premier saying corruption is not all bad and that there are "some good things" about corruption. Think again that it is the premier of reputedly the most racist province that appears to defend colonialism.
The EFF will undoubtedly monitor the story and how the DA deals with Zille. Right now she is causing headaches for many people, including the DA mayors in Johannesburg, Tshwane and other municipalities.