23/03/2017 20:13 SAST | Updated 23/03/2017 20:55 SAST

No, Zille Will Not Go Quietly Into The Night

It's Zille against Maimane, which means it's her against the rest of the DA over those colonialism tweets.

Helen Zille
Mike Hutchings / Reuters
Helen Zille

Helen Zille, the embattled premier of the Western Cape and former leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA), will not go quietly into the night and is preparing a comprehensive defence of her controversial tweets about colonialism.

She will apparently argue that she did not defend colonialism or apartheid in any form, that her sentiments were twisted and misconstrued and that her vilification is driven by "mob justice". Her arguments also centre around respect for the rule of law and due process and a contention that she must be awarded the opportunity to be judged on her actual words and not just the "national calamity" which it caused.

Zille was last week criticised after she sent out a series of tweets that were widely interpreted as defending aspects of colonialism. The DA's federal legal commission (FLC) will this weekend decide whether or not she should be disciplined.

According to seven senior sources in the party, including close associates, long-time supporters and active opponents of Zille, in and outside of the parliamentary caucus and national leadership:

  • Party leader Mmusi Maimane, who was mentored by Zille before she stood down in favour of him, is said to be "genuinely angered" at his predecessor's tweets;
  • An opinion piece, in which she tries to contextualise her tweets and seemingly berates the DA's leadership, seriously exacerbated the situation;
  • A proposal that she steps down, with the party undertaking to defend her legacy, is being discussed and will be made to her; and
  • There is broad agreement that her tweets and the subsequent fallout did serious damage to the party and that she must be subjected to a "harsh" penalty.

Zille's supporters in the party's top echelons seem distraught at the fallout her tweets caused and accept she might not survive a disciplinary process. Her enemies however believe she has served her purpose and that Maimane must be seen to distance himself from her in order to mould the party in his image.

"Emotions are raw at the moment. She's a great figure and to see it come to this is very painful for many who have worked closely with her," an experienced and senior MP, who supports Zille, told Huffington Post South Africa.

The MP added that Zille "can in no way be branded a racist, but the party has no choice but to mete out a heavy penalty".

"She understands the bigger picture, she knows what's at stake, but she will fight this. The best possible outcome is for her to pre-empt what could become a messy fight and stand down," the MP said. "But she won't."

Another senior DA leader, who was involved in the debate around Maimane's accession to the leadership position and is sympathetic to Zille, said it is possible that a deal might be cut which would prevent a "nasty" fight, but that it is not yet on the table.

According to this source the storm around the initial tweets could have been weathered, but the subsequent opinion piece in which she defended them was perceived as an attack on Maimane. "Nobody in the party took kindly to that," the source said. Zille, in a piece published on The Daily Maverick, warned the DA should beware not to "swallow every tenet, myth . . . of African racial nationalism".

There is also agreement — among friend and foe alike — that it will be very difficult to convince Zille that her comments in themselves are damaging because she firmly believes they were taken out of context. Zille will "mount a powerful and persuasive" argument, according to sources. She feels hung out to dry by the party's leadership. According to her it was the DA's reaction, fuelled by a social media "lynch mob", that caused the real damage, not her tweets.

"It's just a tweet," one ally said. "There's no way you can construe Zille to be a racist. It's just patently and empirically untrue."

Another MP, who has been a long-time opponent of Zille, told HuffPost SA even though her actions are "a waste", a calamity like this was "almost inevitable".

This MP says Zille is incapable of understanding that the conflict is not between her and a faction in the party, but that it's her against Maimane, which means it is her against the rest of the DA. Zille was supposed to adhere to an implicit understanding that she should stay out of national politics and focus on the Western Cape. "This was always going to happen. She has to go."

Zille will meet the FLC chaired by MP Glynnis Breytenbach on the weekend. The FLC will forward a report to the federal executive, which will meet on April 22 and 23, where a decision about whether to charge the former leader will be taken.

According to this source she has forced the party to choose between the past and the future "and nobody will choose the former".