19/04/2017 17:30 SAST | Updated 19/04/2017 17:45 SAST

DA Brings Out Legal Big Guns To Decide Helen Zille's Fate

The panel that will preside over a hearing on Zille's colonialism tweets all hold law qualifications.

Helen Zille.
Howard Burditt / Reuters
Helen Zille.

The DA has appointed a "strong, experienced legal team" to lead the disciplinary hearing of its former leader, Western Cape Premier Helen Zille, for her tweets on colonialism.

DA deputy federal legal commission chairperson Werner Horn said all three members held qualifications in law. They are Hans-Jurie Moolman, who is a DA councillor from Potchefstroom; Pogiso Monchusi, who is a party member but does not hold public office; and Dr Annelie Lotriet, who is a DA member of Parliament.

"So all three members of the panel hold qualifications in law, two of the three are practicing lawyers, and they have the necessary experience also within the federal legal commission.

"So this is a strong enough panel, with enough expertise and experience within the federal legal commission to do the job," Horn told News24.

Zille has been charged with having broadly brought the DA into disrepute, and of damaging the party, with her 16 March tweets defending aspects of colonialism.

One of her tweets read: "For those claiming legacy of colonialism was ONLY negative, think of our independent judiciary, transport infrastructure, piped water etc."

A second tweet reads: "Getting onto an aeroplane now and won't get onto the wi-fi so that I can cut off those who think EVERY aspect of colonial legacy was bad."

The tweets sparked widespread public outrage from senior members of the DA, including party leader Mmusi Maimane, and the public alike.

Zille apologised and said she was not defending or justifying colonialism, but only highlighting that its consequences were not only negative.

"Of course colonialism had a diabolical impact worldwide, including South Africa. That was the very premise of my tweets. Anyone who read them without a personal or political agenda would have understood that. If you say the consequences of something were not only negative, you are saying most were negative," she said.

"But if there was anyone who genuinely thought I was praising, defending, or justifying colonialism, I apologised unreservedly and stressed that this was not so. I do so again now," Zille said.

She is expected to report to advocate Glynnis Breytenbach, chairperson of the DA's federal legal commission, after consulting with her lawyers, before a date for the hearings -- which are expected to last two days -- will be decided.

Open hearings?
News24 asked if the party had considered opening the disciplinary hearings, given the unprecedented public interest.

Horn said the party constitution didn't allow the media or the public to attend the hearings and the party treats disciplinary hearings as internal matters.

"From federal legal commission point of view, everyone is equal before the law and we really want to give everyone who stands accused the same fair treatment or trial, within the rules of the DA," Horn said.

The panel is tasked with listening to testimony, reviewing evidence, making factual findings, and then deciding whether Zille is guilty of misconduct or not.

According to party's constitution, if the panel finds her guilty, it will recommend a sanction that will be taken to the DA's federal executive council, which will decide if the sanction is appropriate or not. Senior DA members have privately called for strong action against Zille, warning that the party's decision could have implications for the its fortunes at the 2019 national and provincial polls, especially in Gauteng.