Mazibuko nothing without me - Zille
DA leader Helen Zille has launched an extraordinary attack on Lindiwe Mazibuko, her party's former parliamentary leader, claiming she "made" her and "saved" her many times.
The falling-out has rocked the DA, which is embroiled in a bitter battle over its black leadership. The tensions could fuel claims that its attitude to black leaders in its ranks smacks of window-dressing.
Zille told the party's federal executive meeting in Johannesburg on Friday that she had opposed Mazibuko's candidature as parliamentary leader against Eastern Cape leader Athol Trollip.
But, she said, she had supported Mazibuko once her candidature had been declared because she could not run the risk of a black candidate losing.
Zille told the meeting she "made" Mazibuko and went on to attack her record as parliamentary leader, claiming she "saved" her several times.
She painted a picture of Mazi-buko as incompetent and out of her depth, saying she promoted, defended and protected her and that Mazibuko was nothing without her.
Yesterday, federal executive chair James Selfe denied the interpretation of the meeting as tense and emotive.
"There was an honest and frank debate. It was robust but without rancour, and there was a great deal of honesty. I would venture to say that we are the only party in South Africa, and maybe the world, which can remain cohesive and still have such strong debate," he said.
Zille's claims came a week after Mazibuko dropped a bombshell by saying she would not seek to renew her parliamentary position, having decided to study at Harvard University in the US.
Yesterday Mazibuko said: "I really think it is best for me and the DA if I stay out of this for now. I won't be doing any more interviews."
According to various sources, Friday's meeting was tense and emotive. No one would speak on the record because federal executive discussions are meant to be confidential. Some of those who attended the meeting did not want to comment.
One source described the meeting as "very hectic. Helen has changed. She is not the Helen Zille of 10, even five, years ago. One had the feeling that the empress no longer wore clothes, but that no one would say so because then she would turn on them with the same venom. But I think that if a leadership election were held there, we might have seen a surprising result."
Sources said the meeting started with Zille delivering a speech that first focused on the DA's poll performance and growth and then turned to Mazibuko's departure and the possibility of national spokesman Mmusi Maimane succeeding her.
Zille then launched the scathing attack on Mazibuko - who did not attend the meeting - saying Mazibuko should have told her earlier about her decision to study.
She also said Mazibuko had constructed a "Berlin wall" between herself and Zille and repeated her belief - stated in the media this week - that Mazi-buko would have lost a parliamentary election to Maimane.
Her attack on Mazibuko's parliamentary record is in sharp contrast to what she has claimed in public since 2011.
In an interview then, Zille said: "Lindi is a brilliant debater and public speaker. The DA gains someone who can use the parliament as a platform to speak to the nation on all our policies. She also enables people to see that the DA is a party for all the people."
After Zille's attack, federal chairman Wilmot James praised Mazibuko's parliamentary achievements and urged Zille to halt her attacks.
He said Mazibuko had campaigned for the DA during the elections and the timing of her announcement, after the election and before the parliamentary leadership election, had caused the least possible harm and disruption to the DA.
The subject of Mazibuko's successor was equally heated. MP Stevens Mokgalapa warned against a "rent-a-black" approach to leadership elections, saying competence was more important than race.
Zille told the meeting that because she knew Maimane was not experienced enough to be parliamentary leader, the executive had to decide on a strong team to support him.
She also disclosed that she had asked Selfe to be the leader for a year and then let Maimane take over, but Selfe had been unwilling.
DA Gauteng leader John Moodey then reminded Zille that DA leaders were elected, not appointed. He accused Zille of trying to usurp the power of the parliamentary caucus and said he would not allow it.
He said the DA should not act like the colonial powers who imposed leaders on the local population, and asked who gave her the right to appoint Maimane as leader.
The tone of the meeting deteroriated when Gauteng MP Makashule Gana said he was considering running as parliamentary leader. Zille said she would not be involved in the elections and that it was his decision.
DA Mpumalanga leader Anthony Benadie raised the view - held widely in the DA and voiced earlier this week in the media by Western Cape leader Ivan Meyer - that in this time of crisis, Zille should lead the DA in parliament.
He said it was technically possible for her to be elected, although Zille said her decision to remain Western Cape premier had ruled her out. Trollip attacked Zille for targeting and influencing "vulnerable" MPs when she campaigned for Mazibuko against him.