Steenhuisen defends Helen Zille's track record, but says 'you don't want her fingers on Twitter'

'I have been very clear with Helen about that'

11 November 2020 - 14:00
DA federal council chairperson Helen Zille has sparked controversy with her comments on Twitter.
DA federal council chairperson Helen Zille has sparked controversy with her comments on Twitter.
Image: DONNA WATSON

DA leader John Steenhuisen has defended the party's decision to keep Helen Zille as its federal council chairperson, claiming “all political leaders have weak points” but that her track record speaks for itself.

Zille sparked controversy in the past over her comments made on Twitter about colonialism.

She got tongues wagging again in June when she tweeted that former president FW de Klerk “dismantled apartheid” and “there are more racist laws now than during apartheid”.

Zille was earlier this month re-elected to the position of federal council chair at the party's elective conference.

When asked by Kaya FM's Khaya Sithole this week why the party decided to elect Zille into leadership after her comments had offended many, Steenhuisen said Zille's experience and expertise were of value to the party.

“All political leaders have weak points and strong points. You have got to just make sure your strong points outweigh them [your weak points]. We are talking about an individual who is actually the most successful premier in post-democratic SA. This is somebody who didn't talk about the capable state, she delivered it in the Western Cape."

'Told to focus on party work'

Steenhuisen said  Zille is no longer on Twitter and was told to focus on party work.

“What you don't want is her fingers on Twitter, and I have been very clear with Helen about that, upfront. You will notice Helen is no longer on Twitter because the time that is spent needs to be spent building the party,” he said, adding that “Twitter is a massive distraction from the real world.”

Steenhuisen referred Zille's tweets to the party's federal legal commission, which deals with legal and disciplinary matters, in June after MP Hlanganani Gumbi and Gauteng MPL Khume Ramulifho both filed formal complaints with the party.

Shortly after, several MPs told the Sunday Times that Steenhuisen would not speak out against Zille’s apartheid tweets in public because he wants to avoid a "tit-for-tat" with her.

They claimed he was attacked by MPs in a DA parliamentary caucus meeting for not taking a firm public stand against Zille for her tweets, and that she was instrumental in getting him elected interim leader of the party last year.

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