Johannesburg — South Africa’s main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, on Saturday suspended former leader Helen Zille over Twitter messages in which she said colonialism had brought benefits to the country.
The DA, which won 22 percent of the vote in the last general election, hopes to make major gains in the 2019 election but it has struggled to shed its image as a “white” party.
Zille, who is the current premier of Western Cape province, unleashed fierce criticism from her own party and opponents.
South Africa remains deeply divided more than 20 years after the end of white-minority apartheid rule, as stark racial inequality leaves millions of black people with poor housing, education and job opportunities.
Mmusi Maimane, the DA’s first black leader, said Zille’s social media posts and other public statements “in connection with colonialism undermine our reconciliation project.”
“Ms. Zille’s original tweets and subsequent justifications have damaged our standing in the public mind,” he said.
“Our public representatives must, at all times, be sensitive to the legitimate anger that people still feel about our past and its legacy.”
The DA, which promotes a liberal, equal-opportunity message, is pushing hard to broaden its appeal among black voters.
But it has been bruised by social media scandals as the party tries to take advantage of the declining popularity of the ruling African National Congress (ANC).
“For those claiming legacy of colonialism was ONLY negative, think of our independent judiciary, transport infrastructure, piped water,” Zille wrote on Twitter in March.
She was suspended from the party until a disciplinary hearing is completed.
Maimane, 36, who grew up in the township of Soweto, was fast-tracked through the party ranks by Zille, who was his predecessor as leader.
The DA has its roots in the now defunct Progressive Party, co-founded by the late anti-apartheid activist Helen Suzman in 1959.
South Africa was colonized by both the Dutch and British. The Dutch East India Company established the first colony in 1652. — AFP