Steenhuisen says Zille's tweets on apartheid not truthful

DA federal council chairperson Helen Zille shortly before her predecessor as DA leader, Tony Leon, addressed the Cape Town Press Club at Kelvin Grove on Tuesday. (Jan Gerber, News24)
DA federal council chairperson Helen Zille shortly before her predecessor as DA leader, Tony Leon, addressed the Cape Town Press Club at Kelvin Grove on Tuesday. (Jan Gerber, News24)
  • DA interim leader John Steenhuisen says while Helen Zille made comments that there were more racist laws now in SA than under apartheid, this was not the truth. 
  • Zille has referred her recent spate of controversial tweets to party structures to determine if she breached any party policies. 
  • Steenhuisen says the recent high court judgment, dismissing the DA's opposition to BBBEE is abhorrent, adding that the party will be lodging an appeal in the matter.

The DA's interim leader John Steenhuisen refuses to deal directly with views expressed by the party's federal council chairperson, Helen Zille, but he does not agree with Zille that there are more racist laws now than during apartheid. 

"South Africa is an infinitely better, more just and humane society now than it was under apartheid," Steenhuisen told News24.

The DA federal council chairperson has been lambasted over some of her tweets, which has been labelled as racist and divisive in recent days.

In her tweet, she said that there are more racist laws today than there were under apartheid. She added that all racist laws are wrong.

Steenhuisen said that Zille has referred her own tweets to the party's structures for assessment.

"I have today had a conversation with her directly and expressed my views on the matter. Helen has referred her tweet to the party structures to determine whether she has breached any rules or regulations of the party," said Steenhuisen to News24. 

The former leader of the DA, who made a comeback into active politics last year, has often ruffled feathers for her views on colonialism, which she previously apologised for, after which she committed to stop tweeting on such topics.

She also defended apartheid-era president, FW de Klerk, and commented on a poem by a black learner, who objected to the touching of her hair, defining the complaints as "reasons to be a victim". She said that her child's hair was often touched by people in the townships when she used to work there.

Her latest twitter rant follows the DA's failed high court bid for the Minister of Small Business Development Khumbudzo Ntshaveheni to stop using BBBEE status, race, gender, age or disability as a criterion for Covid-19 aid.

READ MORE: DA loses court bid to stop govt using race, BBBEE status as criteria for Covid-19 aid

Steenhuisen would not say outright whether he agreed with a contention in the party that Zille's tweets violated party policy, but he did appear to disagree with her assertion that there were more racist laws now than there were during apartheid.

He said the country's Constitution guaranteed everyone's place and contribution, meaning all were equal before the law.

Steenhuisen, however, also defended Zille and blamed the government for "increasingly and deliberately driving wedges between South Africans".

"Trading in racial divisiveness and making some South Africans feel as though they don't belong - this is totally wrong. And a law, which excludes on the basis of race, is inherently wrong," said Steenhuisen.

"The high court judgment, which says it is okay for a government to choose who it helps in a time of crisis on the basis of race, is abhorrent. It must be taken on appeal, and we will do that," he added.

Pressure has been mounting on the interim leader to speak out against Zille's tweets, but insiders have told News24 that Zille has great influence in the party. She also holds the key to whether Steenhuisen cracks the nod as the federal leader when the DA holds its virtual conference in October.

"It's a difficult space for John. Remember, he is not the leader. I am sure he would want to say something; to call her out, take some sort of action, but she has the machinery and he needs it now," said one DA insider on condition of anonymity to News24.

READ MORE: DA's proposed virtual conference in October believed to favour Steenhuisen

A party leader, also speaking off the record, told News24 that some had tried speaking to Zille about her tweets - but "she just doesn't listen".

"You know, she doesn't listen to anyone. For us, when we say something publicly, it will be used against us on social media and, when you try handle it internally… well, she just doesn't listen," said the senior leader.

However, a few prominent party members, including Mbali Ntuli, who is a member of the KwaZulu-Natal legislature and a federal leadership hopeful, and MP Phumzile van Damme, distanced themselves from the tweets, calling on national leadership to take action.

Ntuli also placed the ball firmly in Steenhuisen's hands. In a tweet to the interim leader, Ntuli asked what he was intending to do about Zille.

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