South Africa opposition party suspends Helen Zille over colonialism tweets

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South African opposition party Democratic Alliance (DA) president Helen Zille addresses a crowd of supporters during an elections campaign rally in Johannesburg Alexandra township on 30 April, 2014.Helen Zille is a major political figure in South Africa

South Africa’s main opposition party has suspended its former leader after she tweeted that colonialism was not all bad.

The leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA) said Helen Zille’s remarks undermined its reconciliation project.

The party is holding a disciplinary hearing on the case. The anti-Apartheid activist could face expulsion.

Her tweets led to a storm of criticism in March. It is feared they have affected the party’s electoral chances.

Ms Zille, a major political figure in South Africa, has not yet commented on the decision.

She will retain her elected post as premier of Western Cape province, a DA stronghold and the only province not governed by the African National Congress.

Tweets undermine South Africa’s opposition

Who is Helen Zille

DA leader Mmusi Maimane, who took over from Ms Zille in 2015, said that her suspension was pending the outcome of the disciplinary hearing.

“We live in a fragile democracy. Our public representatives must be sensitive to the legitimate anger that people still feel about our past and its legacy,” he said in a series of tweets.

“I asked Helen Zille to tender an unreserved apology to both South Africa and the DA for damage she has done. Unfortunately, she declined.”

However, after the criticism, she sent a tweet saying: “I apologise unreservedly for a tweet that may have come across as a defence of colonialism. It was not.”

Tweet from Helen Zille reads:
Tweet from Helen Zille reads:

The DA had been under pressure to sanction Ms Zille for her comments.

It is desperate to dismiss the impression that it largely represents white interests in South Africa, BBC Africa editor James Copnall says.

Mr Maimane, a young and charismatic black leader, has sought to make the party more attractive to the black majority, our correspondent adds.

The DA won 22% of the vote in the 2014 general election, coming second to the governing ANC. It is hoping to build on its success in local polls in 2016 as it prepares for the presidential election due in 2019.

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