16/03/2017 20:58 SAST | Updated 16/03/2017 21:17 SAST

It's About Time The Democratic Alliance 'Black Caucus' Spoke Out Against Helen Zille

It is partly their fault that Helen Zille’s racebaiting has come to replace the party position in the minds of the people.

Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Mmusi Maimane with then-candidate Solly Msimanga, now Tshwane mayor, during the 2016 local government election campaign.
Thapelo Maphakela / Getty Images
Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Mmusi Maimane with then-candidate Solly Msimanga, now Tshwane mayor, during the 2016 local government election campaign.

Last week, I opened my column on the social grants crisis by noting that it was surprising to read the Democratic Alliance's policy documents, since some of the stated positions differ greatly from the popular opinions that you read from some of its "more tempestuous corners". This week, the party's former leader and now Western Cape Premier Helen Zille demonstrated this point brilliantly.

Inspired, somehow, by observations made in Singapore, on Thursday she tweeted*: "For those claiming legacy of colonialism was ONLY negative‚ think of our independent judiciary‚ transport infrastructure‚ piped water etc."

She doubled down on this viewpoint later: "Would we have had a transition into specialised health care and medication without colonial influence? Just be honest, please." (Note: this doesn't apply to the science and technology of Nazi Germany... Seemingly, the progress argument doesn't count where her family was made to suffer.)

In a week where the African National Congress was on the ropes, thanks to a tremendous shellacking of Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini in the Constitutional Court, you would have thought that the opposition would have seen an opportunity to spread its message amongst the poor (and often rural) constituencies it has historically struggled to penetrate. This should have been a time for consolidating its "forward" message. Instead, it is being forced back into the battles of the past, thanks to its former leader.

I feel very sorry for the young, black leaders in the DA — people like party leader Mmusi Maimane, Phumzile van Damme, Makashule Gana and others. Try as they might to build a new, diverse, inclusive party, their effort can be derailed by a single tweet from their former leader. But it is their responsibility to counter her, and it has always been.

Their silence in the past, and I should include every DA person who disagreed with her previous racebaiting outbursts here, meant that there was only this one voice in the public. A voice that was taken to be speaking for the DA. By keeping quiet, those who differed ensured that Zille's voice became synonymous with the DA's voice.

It was therefore encouraging to see how quickly the "DA black caucus" condemned Zille, though it should be noted that Bongani Baloyi was apparently one of only few brave enough to tag Zille's handle in a condemnatory tweets. Encouraging, but it should not have taken this long.

In an interview on Radio 702, Maimane promised that she would face a party disciplinary process. This is an opportunity for the party to eject this toxic remnant once and for all... She is a political liability for a party that intends to grow by attracting more black voters to itself.

Without sanctioning her and making sure she doesn't harm the party brand in the future, this will be the pattern of things: she (the past) will find another opportunity to make a tremendous mess, and it will be left up to the party's black leadership (the future) to clean up. Precisely as happened on Thursday. It's up to the DA's black caucus to put a stop to this.

*It shall be interesting to see if the warriors of "logic" and "reason" in the party of fairness and opportunity will take to their respective columns in the right-wing papers to counter Zille as they do when the person to be shouted at belongs to a differing political formation. I will not be holding my breath. It should go without saying, but it is illogical to argue that the modern healthcare/infrastructure we have in the country naturally flows from the colonisation of Africa and the subjugation of her peoples. Colonialism is an interruption of African history speculating that the region couldn't have developed without it is fiction. It is a fact-free argument. Archaeology has shown that prior to colonisation, the region had trade links with Asia, as far afield as Ming-dynasty China. Let's leave aside the awkward discovery made by many early explorers that Africa was more advanced than their own countries. What we can say for certain is that the idea that progressive ideas could not have developed in Africa, but had to be brought on the ships of the Dutch and Portuguese, is a white supremacist fantasy. In any case, I am extremely confident that the descendants of the people who were subjugated by the settler colonialists don't think that tarred roads are an acceptable trade-off for the misery of colonialism.