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Helen Zille's suspension means nothing

2017-06-05 13:08

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Oliver Dickson

Mmusi Maimane and Phumzile van Damme announced that Helen Zille has been suspended from all party positions and activities. On the surface, that sounds like a bold move – one that the ANC refuses to take with Jacob Zuma – but when you look real close at it, it was a cosmetic move to manage the DA’s brand more than it was one to affirm the DA’s principles and politics.

A careful exception to that suspension is that Zille will remain the premier of the Western Cape. Given that she remains in that position, any other form of sanctioning would be meaningless to her – because she gets to continue doing what she’s been doing all along. If Maimane thought Zille’s tweets and defences thereof were as offensive and ahistoric as he claims they are, his sanctioning efforts would have been directed towards removing Zille as the premier of the Western Cape.

Why is that?

As premier of the Western Cape, Zille holds a position that has constitutional, legislative, political and democratic bearing because that is a position that she has been directly elected into by the people who took to the polls to vote. Her position as member of the Democratic Alliance federal executive, which she now has been suspended from, is merely a position that holds significance for the organisation. Suspending her from her organisational position means nothing for her ability to continue being a public representative. She may as well have been suspended as the captain of the Rondebosch book club.

Granted, removing Zille as the premier of the Western Cape is a legislative process, so Maimane, technically, can’t just remove her from that position. But he could, however, have moved for a vote of no confidence in Zille within the Western Cape provincial legislature from within his own party caucus. He then could lobby that caucus to vote in favour of that vote of no confidence and they would have overwhelmingly succeeded. But that’s a move he chose not to make – which proves to us that her organisational suspension is merely cosmetic.

Why is the removal of Helen Zille so important?

Zille’s removal from the DA and from public office is important for two reasons. The first being that it is the right thing to do given that we know she holds problematic views about apartheid and colonialism. However, critics of Zille have time and time again been asked to demonstrate why her views about colonialism and apartheid are problematic.

Here’s why: the legacy of apartheid continues to live in post-apartheid South Africa – that legacy lives within the structure of the economy, the continued patterns of apartheid spatial planning and a plethora of other spheres. If Zille claims that certain things about apartheid and colonialism were beneficial, then it means she does not believe those things should be removed, at best, or rearranged, at minimum. That means she is less likely to enact policies and use budgetary tools to undo the problematic spatial planning of apartheid which is incredibly prevalent in the Western Cape, for instance.

That is not the type of public official that the black and destitute people of the Western Cape deserves. Therefore she should be removed from that position. She should be removed as the premier of the Western Cape.

The second reason why Zille should be removed from the DA and public office is for reasons pertaining to the credibility of the DA. The DA simply cannot afford have her continue acting in the name of the party – which is something she gets to continue doing as premier.

The DA has reached its ceiling with white voters. There aren’t any more white voters that the DA can continue to try and attract to vote for the party because they already have most of the white electorate. That means the DA’s efforts should be geared towards attracting black voters if they even remotely care about growing and unseating the ANC.

Black voters are increasingly seeing Zille as an anti-black bigot. Especially the so called “black middle class” which the DA has been getting increased support from. Those are the people who will stop voting for the DA if Zille sticks arounds. In the eyes of those people, the DA does not walk the talk.

But importantly, it affirms the ANC and EFF’s claims that Maimane is a puppet of white control. That narrative is often what disables the DA from gaining increased black support – because the reality of the South African electorate is that we vote along racial lines and will continue to do so for a very long time.

If the ‘white puppet’ narrative does not get challenged with actions that prove the contrary, people will never believe that the DA is transformed or making any efforts to transform. Maimane will be seen as a leader who cannot actively challenge the DA’s problematic whiteness – especially if that whiteness believes colonialism and apartheid was kind of cool.

Helen Zille’s suspension, as it stands, is meaningless. 

- Dickson is a socio-political analyst and an award winning competitive debater. Follow him on Twitter: @Oliver_Speaking.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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