08/06/2017 10:20 SAST | Updated 08/06/2017 11:30 SAST

Helen Zille: 'This Process Is A Sham'

The former Democratic Alliance leader wrote a 9-page letter to the party's federal executive explaining why she shouldn't be suspended.

Helen Zille in 2009.
Mark Wessells / Reuters
Helen Zille in 2009.

Helen Zille has cited racism as the reason she was charged for bringing the Democratic Alliance into disrepute, saying this was only the case because she is not black.

The Western Cape premier and longstanding Democratic Alliance bigwig accused the party of treating its members differently based on race and further slammed party leader Mmusi Maimane for prejudging her case and opting to suspend her before she could make representations on Tuesday.

She said this compromises the objectivity of the party's federal executive in deciding her fate.

Zille made the comments in her representations to DA federal executive chairperson James Selfe ahead of her hearing on Friday. She made the representations public on Wednesday.

But Zille's argument for why she should not be suspended did not save her and the party announced on Wednesday evening that they had decided "by an overwhelming majority" to officially suspend her from party-related activities until her disciplinary hearing is concluded. The suspension is effective immediately.

Maimane announced over the weekend that the DA had opted to suspend Zille but later revoked his statement after the party's executive allowed her until Tuesday to make representations before they came to a decision.

"Even if the [executive] were to support my arguments on their merits, they will be aware that this will be seen as a public repudiation of the leadership's [Maimane's] wishes, which they will probably seek to avoid," Zille wrote.

"The failure to observe due constitutional process has rendered the exercise of my right to representation hollow, as there is little chance of the [executive] publicly embarrassing the leader through being influenced by the legality of my submission, no matter how cogent it is."

Zille was charged and is now suspended following a series of tweets in March that were seen to glorify colonialism.

In her representations, Zille said many black South Africans have expressed "exactly the same views on the legacy of colonialism" as she has, and given that the DA has never raised any concerns about these views, let alone repudiated them, and has no written policy on the matter, she believes a contributing reason to her charge is that she is not black.

"In these circumstances, I am of the view that the entire process that you have now asked me to engage in is both contrary to our constitution and a sham. I have also been alerted to the fact that there is an orchestrated campaign by 'insiders' to accuse me publicly of obstructing the direction set by the current leadership, complemented by a public campaign involving a network of individuals to call on me to resign," Zille wrote.

Zille said the charges do not justify her suspension and that the move seems to be based more "on a sense of vindictiveness" because she resisted a guilty plea before an official hearing.

She said her tweets were misinterpreted.

"I have been defamed repeatedly in respect of the matters before the [executive] over the past weeks, without responding, and therefore it is not correct to assert that I have harmed the party. In fact, it is extremely prejudicial to me that other prominent members of the party continue to speak out on the matter, thus harming the party and myself, while I am prevented from doing so," Zille wrote.

"I have done nothing to breach my oath of office as premier that warrants my resignation or removal from this office. Hence, I regard the attempts to 'resolve' the matter on that basis as not being bona fide efforts to do so. They were attempts to punish me without a hearing, after the leader had pronounced on my guilt in advance in public."

She said although Maimane was quoted as saying one of the reasons for suspending her was because she declined to apologise to South Africa and the DA, she in fact did so repeatedly.

Federal executive chairperson James Selfe said on Wednesday that the DA agreed that Zille's tweets "break down public trust, stunts South Africa's reconciliation imperative and undermines [the party's] political project".

"There is no question that Zille's original tweets and subsequent justifications have damaged our standing in the public mind. We live in a fragile democracy, which means our public representatives must at all times be sensitive to the legitimate anger that people still feel about our past and its legacy," Selfe said.

Zille will, however, continue in her government role as premier of the Western Cape.