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Former DA Leader Tony Leon: Zille Was Not Prepared To Walk The Plank

We don't know whether Helen Zille will restrict herself in the next two years to only speaking to provincial and family matters.

14/06/2017 03:59 SAST | Updated 14/06/2017 06:42 SAST
Mujahid Safodien/ AFP/ via Getty Images
Mmusi Maimane and Helen Zille.

The Democratic Alliance was constrained by the rule book which is the rule of law and the Constitution. I think once Helen Zille was lawyered up the party didn't have a free hand to just act as it wanted to, given the fact that she was suspended and they were trying to close this matter down.

I think if I had been the leader of the party, I would have closed this matter down as soon as possible. It's such an obvious distraction from the core business that the party should be pursuing at this moment of national and economic peril that the country faces.

We don't know whether Helen Zille will restrict herself in the next two years to only speaking to provincial and family matters. The question then becomes what happens if there is a violation going forward, which means this outcome depends on faith and good trust. Short of going the litigation route -- which the DA was on -- the party leadership had no option but to try and find a compromise with which to shut this matter down. And right now, we do not know how long this will last.

They couldn't fire Zille, because she wasn't prepared to walk the plank -- she would have gone to court. In this instance, the DA tried to mitigate their losses in order to move on.

In my opinion, the Democratic Alliance was trying to reconcile two things. Firstly, it was trying to keep the good parts of Zille, which is good governance in the Western Cape. Secondly, it was to jettison the bad parts, which were the parts she acknowledged in her apology. Being tone deaf, exercising poor judgement and being gratuitously offensive to a lot of people in the country.

They couldn't fire Zille, because she wasn't prepared to walk the plank -- she would have gone to court. In this instance, the DA tried to mitigate their losses in order to move on. At this point, one cannot make a determined judgement on what took place on Tuesday, we have to see what will happen in the months to come and years to come.

Some may be questioning whether Zille's views have changed or whether she felt pressured to make the statement she made on Tuesday. This is the right question, and the answer is both. I was in London at the time of the presser, but I'm told by those in the know, that she apparently felt the heat after the reactions from the public and the decline in the DA. This got through to her. And she didn't want to be held responsible for single-handedly destroying the project in which she had invested a great deal of her time in building it up. She also obviously wanted to keep her premiership and she obtained that.

It is a very difficult dynamic situation for a current leader and a former leader to both be active in the party at the same time.

Zille is gone from decision-making structures but is still the premier. For the DA this is about settling this in a manner which will leave the least damage to both the party and the province. The easiest thing for the DA entirely would have been if Helen Zille had resigned because that would have the taken her out of the equation and would not have lead to a huge disruption in the provincial legislation. But Zille clearly wasn't amenable to that option so the DA went for the second best option.

I think ultimately it was a compromise, so the old adage comes to play here - better a bad settlement than a good judgement, in other words, you're often better off settling things than waiting for some final judgement which may not reach a final conclusion of the matter. Ultimately, I think they were driven by fact that every passing day of the saga was causing more and more damage and I think the hope for them was that this conclusion would minimise the damage.

Many people may be wondering why the DA has decided to act now when Zille has had several gaffes. This one in particular matters because all her previous gaffes took place when she was the leader of the party. And there has now been a power shift in the equilibrium, which she perhaps hadn't noticed. She perhaps hadn't appreciated that there was a new leader, as she expressed this morning. It is a very difficult dynamic situation for a current leader and a former leader to both be active in the party at the same time. And I think structurally there is a fundamental problem in the relationship because Zille should really not be in an executive position when she is no longer the leader.

So had Maimane not acted or should he not have been seen to be acting against her, people would have said that he was just a puppet because he would not have really appeared as the leader. Which was why it was necessary for him to really demonstrate to the extent that he could that he was not merely a leader just in name but a leader in fact and that he was prepared to take action against a very influential former leader.

One cannot run a political organisation to please opponents or critiques. One has got to do the right thing and one has got to act decisively and dispatch decisions according to one's own discernment. Maimane has set a course and he has shown that he is prepared to act. There will be those who will say he should have done more and others who will question why he has done this.

Zille has humbled herself in front of the party leader, and this was as significant to me as her concession on the colonial tweets saga. A political party is not an academic seminar and if it is going to allow any view or any opinion to be run right through the party then it's never going to do the business it sets out to do.

If the DA had not taken this action, the party would have been completely paralysed. Internally this is a big win for Maimane and the DA, and internally it is an affected move. But a political party is not about internal happiness but about its external support. Its opponents, from the EFF to the ANC, are going to make as much of this as they can, and the DA will get on with its business because they have dealt with this.