She's back! DA MP Phumzile Van Damme's sabbatical ends abruptly

13 February 2021 - 09:23
By andisiwe makinana AND Andisiwe Makinana
The DA's Phumzile Van Damme is back at work and says her row with party leader John Steenhuisen about her sabbatical 'has been resolved'.
Image: Esa Alexander The DA's Phumzile Van Damme is back at work and says her row with party leader John Steenhuisen about her sabbatical 'has been resolved'.

DA MP Phumzile Van Damme is back at work, weeks before her controversial sabbatical leave was scheduled to end.

In fact, DA leader John Steenhuisen has suggested that Van Damme, who vowed to challenge her unusual leave, never went on sabbatical.

Van Damme confirmed to TimesLIVE on Friday that she was back at work.

“The matter was resolved,” was all she was prepared to say about the so-called sabbatical.

“I am looking forward to going back to work. I will now focus on digital technologies.”

Approached for comment, Steenhuisen shared a letter he sent to Van Damme on December 5, the day after the news of her sabbatical broke.

In it, Steenhuisen wrote: “Allow me to clear up any misconception, I have already exercised my prerogative in appointing the shadow cabinet and this has been communicated to you and other caucus members.

“The offer of a sabbatical until March 30 2021 was extended as a kindness to you given the state of your health that you have repeatedly highlighted to me and other members of the caucus management.

It was an offer made with your best interests in mind. However, I note from your public pronouncements on social media that you do not intend to take it up. That is your prerogative,” he added and wished her a restful festive season.

Van Damme took to Twitter the day before and disclosed that Steenhuisen had given her a sabbatical, even though she had not asked for it.

She said she had been on a three-month sick leave and was due to return to work on December 15. The sabbatical was scheduled to end at the end of March.

Van Damme accused the party of using her illness to sideline her and vowed to challenge the decision to place her on sabbatical on principle.

If he [Steenhuisen] wanted to move me as is his prerogative he should’ve done so without trying to control my life & my body,” she charged.

In a series of tweets, Van Damme said she had worked hard despite being sick and would challenge the sabbatical on principle.

Did I drop the ball while I was sick? No. Even when I was sick, like I do when I am well, did I still outperform many of my colleagues? Yes,” she tweeted.

I asked for no sabbatical. I determine my health, my doctors determine my health, not my employer.”

It emerged on the same evening that Steenhuisen who was elected DA leader a month earlier had rejigged his shadow cabinet in parliament.

In the shake-up, he replaced Van Damme as the primary member of the communications and digital technologies portfolio committee, in which she had served for years, and demoted her.

“She is the alternate member of the communications portfolio committee. All MPs must focus on their work in the year ahead,” Steenhuisen said on Friday.