Natasha Marrian Political editor: Business Day
Distance: DA leader Mmusi Maimane and former party leader Helen Zille at a media briefing in Johannesburg on Tuesday announcing a political settlement. Picture: AFP PHOTO
Distance: DA leader Mmusi Maimane and former party leader Helen Zille at a media briefing in Johannesburg on Tuesday announcing a political settlement. Picture: AFP PHOTO

Helen Zille received a watered down sanction for her tweets on colonialism, with the DA averting a messy and divisive battle with her in the run-up to the crucial 2019 election.

Zille and DA leader Mmusi Maimane flanked each other at a media briefing announcing the settlement on the matter. But it was clear that the relationship was tense.

The DA was criticised by the ANC and other parties for its soft approach in dealing with a second senior leader on racist or prejudicial comments.

Dianne Kohler Barnard shared a Facebook post considered racist but her expulsion from the party was overturned. 

On Tuesday, Zille apologised unreservedly for her tweets on colonialism as part of the political settlement. According to the deal, Zille keeps her job as premier but steps down from all party structures on both national and provincial government levels.Her public communication should be limited to her role as premier, which ends in 18 months’ time. If she does communicate on party matters, it should go through the correct party channels.

Zille said she had reflected and recognised the offence caused by her tweet and subsequent comments on the matter. She said the majority of South Africans were subjugated and oppressed on the basis of race by colonialism and apartheid, and this was indefensible. Zille said that she did not justify, defend or praise colonialism in any way.

She had changed her views on the matter after “reflecting very hard” and after discussions with Maimane and other leaders in the party. She wanted to be part of ensuring that the DA’s project to govern SA succeeded and she did not want to be “part of the reason it fails”.

It is understood that the reason Maimane, who had led the charge against Zille, preferred a political settlement was to avoid having the Zille matter fester until the 2019 election and beyond as this would distract and divide the party during the crucial election campaign. 

“This has not been an easy decision,” Maimane said. “The alternative was to become embroiled in a protracted legal battle in the lead-up to the 2019 election. 

“I have no doubt that this would have done further damage to the project we have embarked upon, to the detriment of every South African committed to nonracialism  and constitutionalism.”

Maimane said the decision was a difficult one but reconciliation remained a critical and continuing imperative in the SA he hoped to build. Zille also expressed regret  for undermining Maimane’s leadership. The battle over her tweets quickly became one
in which Zille was pitted  against Maimane.

In her submission last week on why she should not be suspended, she accused him of “prejudging” the case.
“Mmusi Maimane is the democratically elected leader of the DA and we must all get behind his leadership,” she said on Tuesday.
The ANC has described the settlement as an “unadulterated defence of white supremacy  and privilege”.

In the offensive tweets, Zille said some aspects of colonialism were good as they had  brought development. She then apologised for the tweets, but subsequently wrote an opinion piece in which she defended them and criticised the DA, questioning the direction of the party, which was seen as a tacit dig at Maimane.

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