Idiocy marks DA lead­er­ship’s push to dump Zille

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IN 1912, Ed­ward Smith burst into in the an­nals of his­tory by rac­ing full-steam through the At­lantic ice field. A com­par­i­son with Mmusi Maimane 105 years later is ir­re­sistible.

Of course, Cap­tain Smith of the Ti­tanic hadn’t been look­ing for an ice­berg. The ice­berg found him.

Cap­tain Maimane dif­fers from Smith in that the DA leader has de­lib­er­ately sought out the for­mi­da­ble, icy en­tity on which he in­tends to test his ves­sel. But one He­len Zille is as ca­pa­ble of hol­ing the good ship DA be­low the wa­ter­line, as was that At­lantic ’berg ca­pa­ble of sink­ing the Ti­tanic.

The party mem­ber­ship of Zille, pre­mier of the West­ern Cape and Maimane’s pre­de­ces­sor, has been sus­pended prior to a dis­ci­plinary hear­ing that her many foes hope will end with the com­bat­ive Zille be­ing booted. It’s mon­u­men­tal idiocy.

This is a time of acute ANC vul­ner­a­bil­ity, a mo­ment when the DA should be try­ing to unite dis­parate op­po­si­tion groups and splin­ter par­ties. In­stead, it is hell­bent on alien­at­ing a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of its wealth­i­est sup­port­ers, in or­der to dump the per­son run­ning the coun­try’s only ef­fec­tive gov­ern­ment ad­min­is­tra­tion.

But a po­lit­i­cal party shoot­ing it­self in the foot is not the most im­por­tant thing at stake here. The oust­ing of Zille will have ef­fects be­yond the DA; most crit­i­cally, it means that po­lit­i­cal dis­course in South Africa will be in­creas­ingly in­hib­ited by a spu­ri­ous de­sire at all costs not to of­fend.

Zille es­sen­tially faces two sets of ac­cu­sa­tions. The first is that she made a racist re­mark; the sec­ond is that she dam­aged the DA’s pub­lic stand­ing.

The DA dis­ci­plinary ac­tion fol­lows on her tweet say­ing that the rise of Sin­ga­pore, which she had just vis­ited, was a salu­tary re­minder that de­spite all the neg­a­tives, colo­nial­ism had also brought in­fras­truc­tural and ju­di­cial ad­van­tages. The sen­ti­ment brought a firestorm of so­cial me­dia out­rage, as­sid­u­ously fanned by the ANC.

To say that this is a racist ut­ter­ing, or that Zille is a racist, is lu­di­crous. While it is un­wise to tackle in 140 char­ac­ters a sub­ject with such ram­i­fi­ca­tions of op­pres­sion and pain, her as­ser­tions were in­tel­lec­tu­ally cred­i­ble, as the most nod­ding ac­quain­tance with his­tor­i­cal anal­y­sis will con­firm.

Had that re­mained the is­sue, Zille would have been legally unas­sail­able. Un­for­tu­nately, things quickly be­came per­sonal and messy.

Maimane, sen­si­tive to the vul­ner­a­bil­ity of the DA’s rep­u­ta­tion among its grow­ing black con­stituency, im­me­di­ately sided with the out­raged. And Zille, as is her wont, sim­ply wouldn’t back off, sit down and shut up.

Al­though she apol­o­gised un­re­servedly for any mis­un­der­stand­ing, she con­tin­ued to de­bate the mer­its of the ar­gu­ment. But, for the DA lead­er­ship it was never about a dif­fer­ence of opin­ion. It was about tac­ti­cal ex­pe­di­ency and an un­ex­pected op­por­tu­nity to set­tle old scores.

The is­sue metas­ta­sised. The blem­ish be­came a can­cer, and it seems most of the DA ex­ec­u­tive now thinks that sur­gi­cal ex­ci­sion is the only so­lu­tion.

That the DA brand has been dam­aged is prob­a­bly true. How­ever, that is not only among black vot­ers, but also white vot­ers.

And it is not only the fault of Zille’s stub­born out­spo­ken­ness. She claims, with some jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, that the moves against her would never have been made against a black DA leader.

Maimane ag­gra­vated the po­lar­i­sa­tion by choos­ing to see Zille’s ac­tions as a chal­lenge to his lead­er­ship. Naively, he be­came a par­tic­i­pant in the faux hys­te­ria around her tweet, quickly an­nounc­ing his in­ten­tion to sus­pend her.

In do­ing so, Maimane pre-empted the due process pro­vi­sions of the DA’s own reg­u­la­tions. As Zille de­tails in a now pub­lic let­ter to DA chair­man James Selfe, there have been sev­eral other pro­ce­dural snaf­fles and mis­steps.

It all makes for a le­gal sham­bles and a likely bloody nose for the DA if Zille takes it to court, as she very well might. To fore­stall that hap­pen­ing, there have been calls from some of her old party col­leagues for her to re­sign.

Hi­lar­i­ously, Tony Leon, who was ousted by her as party leader, has en­tered the fray to lec­ture Zille on em­bar­rass­ing be­hav­iour. This from the man who fool­ishly chose to fight a gen­eral elec­tion un­der the in­fa­mous “Fight Back” slo­gan, ren­dered by the ANC as “Fight Black”.

Iron­i­cally, if Zille is dumped, it will be hailed as a vic­tory for en­light­ened, em­pa­thetic po­lit­i­cal dis­course, while it is any­thing but. It should be seen for what it is: a po­lit­i­cal hatchet job that is go­ing to fur­ther close down ro­bust dis­course, the last thing we need right now.

Fol­low WSM on Twit­ter @ TheJaun­dicedEye

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