This is the full text of the statement delivered by DA Leader Mmusi Maimane at a press conference in Johannesburg this morning. Helen Zille’s apology follows after the statement.
When I was elected Leader of the Democratic Alliance two years ago, I received an overwhelming mandate to grow the party by bringing South Africans of all races together. Since then, we have set our sights on unseating the ANC from government in order to save our country.
This project has never been more urgent. A corrupt cabal has captured the state for the purpose of personal enrichment, and our governing party appears powerless to act against it. As a result, our country faces an unprecedented economic crisis with jobs being lost every day.
If ever there was a time for unity of purpose, this is it. It is therefore deeply unfortunate that, over the last few weeks, we have expended energy dealing with Helen Zille’s tweet of 16 March and the fall-out that resulted from it.
Let me say from the outset that Helen Zille’s record in fighting apartheid and her contribution to a democratic South Africa speaks for itself. But there is no question that her tweet and subsequent defence of it did damage to race relations in our country and set us back as a party.
All of us, especially leaders in our society, must remain mindful that colonialism was not a victimless crime. Many South Africans suffered directly under colonialism and apartheid, and continue to be disadvantaged by the legacy of colonialism and apartheid.
I was personally angered by Helen Zille’s tweet and I know that many others were as well. This is why I took immediate action to correct the impression that these were the DA’s views. I wanted people to understand that, under my leadership, the DA is working work hard to reconcile South Africans – black and white – in pursuit of a common vision of progress and prosperity for all.
Over the last few weeks, I have had several engagements with Helen Zille on the subject of her tweet. We have not always agreed on everything, and this is not necessarily a bad thing. As I said when I was elected in 2015:
“All of us are animated by the idea of building a better tomorrow. All of us carry the belief that, out of the ashes of apartheid, a prosperous and united South Africa can emerge.
Sometimes we disagree with each other because we care so much about the future we want to build. And that is okay.
It is healthy for us to engage in robust debate. But, equally, there is no room in this party for those who seek to divide, or those who mobilise on race.
We must challenge each other’s ideas in a constructive manner. For this is how we learn from each other and grow stronger.”
As Leader, my job is to listen, to engage and to set the political direction of the party. In the course of our engagements Helen Zille realised that her tweet and some of the communication that followed was hurtful to many people, and particularly black South Africans. Her acknowledgement of this was a huge step forward for us.
It was important to me that Helen offered the South African public a fulsome and unqualified apology, and I am glad to say that she is now prepared to do that. Her willingness to admit wrongdoing and apologise is a quality that I believe sets her apart from many other political leaders in our country.
Helen has agreed that it is in the best interests of the party for her to vacate her position on all decision-making structures of the party, including the Federal Executive, Federal Council and Provincial Council. In addition, her political communication from this point onward will focus on matters relating to the Western Cape provincial government where she will remain Premier. If she wishes to communicate on any other political issues, she will abide by the sign-off protocols of the Democratic Alliance.
Our nation has a proud history of reconciliation and we must, wherever possible, put aside our differences in pursuit of the common good. I believe this agreement allows us to draw a line under an unfortunate episode and to move on in the best interests of all South Africans.
This has not been an easy decision. The alternative was to become embroiled in a protracted legal battle in the lead-up to the 2019 election. I have no doubt that this would have done further damage to the project we have embarked upon, to the detriment of every South African committed to non-racialism and constitutionalism.
We have made huge progress in the last few years, particularly in the cities we won in the 2016 election. Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay are beginning to see the fruits of good, clean government with better services being rolled out to all, and particularly the poor and marginalised.
The Democratic Alliance will continue to build a future that is free of oppression, where every person has the opportunity to prosper and a live a life of value and dignity. This is our historic mission. We now need to redouble our efforts to make it a reality.
Apology by Helen Zille:
After a period of debate and reflection, I recognise the offence caused by my tweet on 16 March 2017 with regard to the legacy of colonialism. I therefore apologise unreservedly to the South African public who were offended by this tweet and my subsequent explanation of it.
In South Africa, colonialism and apartheid subjugated and oppressed a majority, and benefitted a minority, on the basis of race. This is indeed indefensible, and I do not support, justify, praise or promote it.
I realise the wounds of history that my tweet and subsequent defence of it has opened. In particular, I recognise that my actions were insensitive to South Africans who suffered under colonial oppression. For this, I am genuinely sorry.
During this period I have made public utterances that have had the effect of undermining the Leader of the Democratic Alliance and the project he is leading. I greatly regret this. Mmusi Maimane is the democratically elected Leader of the DA and we must all get behind his leadership.
My intention now is to do everything I can to restore the public trust that has been eroded. Now, more than ever, we need to unite behind a shared vision of one nation, with one future.