Former DA leader Helen Zille said on Monday that a report implying that she had stated that she regretted transforming the party was incorrect.

Speaking to Bongani Bingwa on Talk Radio 702, Zille said she did “exactly the right thing” by diversifying the DA.

This comes after Zille expressed regret in a column published on Sunday and Monday in various news media that she “had mistakenly believed that improving the diversity of the DA – by bringing in black leadership – would help the party rise above race-based politics”.

The party had turned against her, believing that if it could force her to resign after her colonialism tweets, the party would shed its white image and cleanse itself, she wrote in the column.

‘It was essential to transform the DA’

“It was absolutely essential [to transform the party]. Where I was mistaken was to think that would enable the DA to rise above the politics of race and focus on… policies that could help South Africa rise above the awful poverty and unemployment it faces. Instead, it got us further entrenched in the ANC’s narrative of getting total racial representivity before we could be accepted as a legitimate party. That was the tiger that I mounted.”

In her column, Zille wrote: “I have only myself to blame. I was the one who saddled and mounted the Tiger. I thought we could manage it. When I dismounted it attacked me. What did I expect?”

She further wrote: “I hadn’t anticipated one crucial unintended consequence: the more I worked to diversify the DA, and the more successful the party became, the more our opponents accused us of being a ‘white party’ (with the backing of the usual media chorus).”

Read the full column: Helen Zille: My biggest mistake

Speaking on the difference between diversity and representivity, Zille told Bingwa: “One of the ANC’s greatest successes, and I have to take my hat off to them for that, is getting almost universal support for their idea of transformation which really breaks down to racial hegemony. It has nothing to do with nonracialism or diversity.

“You can see that very clearly by the fact that there’s zero debate about the extraordinary racial dominance of the ANC’s executive, for example. That is accepted as absolutely right; so 100% black equals 100% transformed and that is the goal to strive for, in the ANC’s logic, and in the EFF’s logic, too,” she said.

‘Biology shouldn’t trump integrity’

“Our [the DA’s] logic is diversity which means that people’s biological characteristics and the genetic qualities that they were born with should never in a society be able to trump other things like integrity, work ethic, ability, etc.”

Zille said, while diversity was a crucial goal, and very important to the quality of any organisation in South Africa: “The idea of racial representivity, in which the racial composition of any entity needs to reflect directly the racial composition of a society, takes us into the undesirable area of racial quotas, elevating biology above ability.

“That is what apartheid was based on and that is what we have to oppose.”

Zille said there was no question that it was absolutely necessary to transform the leadership of the DA.

“But I should have seen that this was just the start of a slippery slope in a culture like that of South Africa, in which the public analysis is that, unless you satisfy the ANC’s definition of what is transformed, you will always be a ‘white party’, no matter how diverse you are.

“Our goal is not representivity or racial hegemony. Our goal is nonracialism and diversity so that we can start credibly debating the real issues that face South Africa, which is poverty, unemployment, and terrible living conditions for the majority, 25 years after democracy,” Zille told Bingwa.

DA wanted to get Zille a job overseas

In her column, Zille claims the DA wanted to get rid of her following her controversial “colonialism tweets” in 2017, by getting her a job overseas.

READ: Helen Zille sparks Twitter ire again with ‘black privilege’ comments

“I was suspended, and when this still didn’t work, they tried to entice me to leave South Africa. The DA even found a donor to generously sponsor their strategy. If I disappeared, they reckoned, the party would at last be seen as ‘transformed’,” Zille wrote. 

Earlier this month, in a thread about white privilege, Zille tweeted: “Well, you clearly don’t understand black privilege. It is being able to loot a country and steal hundreds of billions and get re-elected. If ppl want permanent poverty for the masses they are going about it the right way. #BlackPrivilege.”

Her tweet sparked a massive reaction.

In her column, Zille writes: “I can already hear the chorus of critics shouting that I only have myself to blame because of my tweets. Here again, I disagree: my most recent tweets were precisely geared at exposing the fallacy of racial generalisations, and the double standards that lie behind the dominant narrative of identity politics (which involves laying sole blame on minorities, for the country’s problems).”

Zille told Bingwa on Monday that she had not received any communication from the DA about her tweets. “I have only seen it on social media.” 

Zille, and MPs Michael Cardo and Ghaleb Cachalia – who were all caught in a Twitter storm over the past week – reportedly confirmed on Thursday that they had not yet received any official correspondence from the DA.

However, Sunday newspaper Rapport reported that DA federal executive chair James Selfe had said on Saturday that the party no longer had any interest in taking action against Zille, as she was no longer a public representative.

‘I have a lot to answer for, but…’

Zille ended her column by saying she had a lot to answer for, “but not for the reasons most commentators think”.

“And I intend to spend the rest of my career in the political domain seeking to make amends and being true to my belief in an inclusive form of nonracialism,” Zille wrote. 

The DA was the biggest loser in the 2019 general elections, dropping to 20.77% from the 22.23% the party had garnered in 2014.

A significant share of the more than 400 000 votes lost by the party appear to have gone to the Freedom Front Plus, which experienced significant growth.

Asked by Bingwa whether controversies surrounding her had resulted in the decline, Zille said: “That certainly is not true. The thing that really shook us was the question of race-based politics and falling into the ANC and EFF narrative that lost us huge numbers of votes to the right. And that was tragic because I see the far-right wing as representing the same kind of identity politics that I always fought against.”

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