DA leader under fire from her own party
Carien du Plessis, City Press
Johannesburg - Western Cape Premier and DA leader Helen Zille has come under fire from her own party for describing people who move to her province in search of a better education as “refugees”.
The party’s spin machine has gone into overdrive in the past three weeks to defend Zille’s use of the word.
Internally, both the DA Youth and eThekwini councillor Nicole Graham were among those who told Zille her words were not well-received by their constituencies.
DA Youth chairperson Mbali Ntuli said they asked Zille about it in a meeting they had on other issues.
“I think everyone in the party has been wanting some sort of understanding on the tweet,” she said. “We did speak to her about it. We think it might not be the right term for the younger audience.”
Ntuli said if people were re-considering their vote for the DA following Zille’s use of “refugees”, they might not have been convinced about voting for the DA in the first place.
She said the party’s youth structure was happy with Zille’s explanation that she meant to highlight the education crisis in the Eastern Cape.
Graham, who tweeted her concern with the use of the word “refugee”, said she sent an e-mail to Zille because she received a “fairly negative” response from her constituents.
“Technically there isn’t much of an issue with it. It is in the implication and the interpretation,” she said. She said Zille discussed it with her.
“She meant the right thing, she was going in the right direction, but the problem is with the way it was interpreted.”
Despite concerns that Zille’s utterance cost the DA loss of support in recent by-elections in three Port Elizabeth wards, Eastern Cape DA leader Athol Trollip said this was unlikely.
Although he was “disappointed” at the drop in support for the DA from 1.5% to 1.2% in one of the wards, he said this was an ANC stronghold because it was the home of former Nelson Mandela Bay Metro mayor Nceba Faku.
In the other two wards the party’s support rose slightly, but it was bound to be an uphill battle since the by-election came about after three ANC councillors died in a car crash and it was an emotional poll.
“The stories about the loss of support are anecdotal. Personally I might have used different language, but I support [Zille’s] sentiment 100%,” he said.
ANC 'refugee' plan
Western Cape ANC chairperson Marius Fransman said the party was planning to use the “refugee” term to campaign against the DA in future elections.
Zille’s chief of staff Geordin Hill-Lewis, however, hit back, saying the ANC’s elections tactic was to “divide South Africans on the basis of race”.
Asked whether Zille would apologise, he said: “She has said from the start that she regrets it when people are offended by her words, especially when there was no intention to offend.”
Two complaints have been lodged with the SA Human Rights Commission about her use of the term.