DA leader and MP Phumzile van Damme says she is neither surprised nor bothered by the Race Relations Institute (IRR) slamming her and three other party leaders in her latest campaign to "save opposition politics".
The campaign, which complies with the state of South African politics but focuses only on the DA, has suggested remedies to get the embattled party back on track.
READ | IRR launches campaign to 'save' DA's direction and future
These include getting rid of "racist leaders", putting an end to "race-based policies", ending the party's relationship at the local government level with the EFF and "appointing good leaders".
It also singled out Van Damme, youth leader Luyolo Mphithi and Herman Mashaba for causing racial conflict, sparking racial furores and for lambasting the think-tank's role in trying to influence the party from outside.
Meanwhile, DA parliamentary chief whip John Steeinhuisen was criticized for his social media response to an opinion piece by IRR's campaign chief, Hermann Pretorius, last week.
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The disgusting naked opportunism displayed by the IRR with this tweet is low-politics. The reference to race is the antithesis of their mission. What are you going to use the money for? Influencing and paying off DA congress delegates and elected decision making bodies? https://t.co/ZH1fjkvjVA
– John Steenhuisen MP (@jsteenhuisen) October 2, 2019
"We have been told there is a campaign to purge certain leaders in the party," Van Damme, who is currently in the US, told News24.
"Now, the IRR says I constantly divide the party along racial lines. That's nonsense. I'm very vocal at party meetings, I say things and there are obviously some people who don't like the hard truth … so this whole year has been rough, and I have been side-lined. "
Van Damme said the weekly newspaper Rapport did not just expose party leader Mmusi Maimane's so-called scandals, which have dominated headlines over recent weeks, but that she was a first target.
"It started with me, leaking all sorts of nonsensical things about me. Rapport in essence is now being seen as the mouthpiece of certain facts in the DA," she remarked.
While she praised Steenhuisen for the position he took last week, Van Damme said she was not sure how Mashaba raised the ire of the organization and then went on to defend the party's youth leader, saying he was being targeted and blamed for the continued loss of. support in the North West due to the Schweizer-Reneke preschool race furore, despite not having uttered a word.
Mphithi said he found the IRR statement regarding, claiming certain leaders had been targeted by the think-tank throughout the year.
"This campaign is like saying some of us are not good enough leaders, there are direct attacks on myself, Phumzile and Herman. It's like saying we are not good enough, not liberal enough for this organization. We should be purged or removed from the organization, "he told News24.
Mphithi claimed there was a "golden thread" one could make, based on the narrative being built on IRR statements and opinion pieces over the past few months, raising concerns that they were being portrayed as nationalists.
While Van Damme did not mince her words when saying some within their own party were working with the IRR, Mphithi said a "strong argument" could be made for this, questioning how leaders were expected to behave in the DA during an era where issues were discussed. internally found their way into the media.
The "racist," leaders are @HermanMashaba,@LuyoloMphithi & I. So the opinionated blacks must be expelled? Not so many white people who have been racist? LMAO. You, the people behind you, your dog, your cat, your bedspread must come on through. Bring it #ThirstyHyaenas https://t.co/GPTsyFuzqU
– Phumzile Van Damme (@zilevandamme) October 7, 2019
Mphithi also called on the party to charge those responsible for media leaks.
A defiant Van Damme, who has criticized the so-called 1959 committee, said he was born out after Waters lost an internal election to the position of deputy chief whip. She added this was in response to young DA leaders who campaigned successfully to get their preferred candidate elected.
"They lost the campaign and then they came up with this narrative that there are these young lions who are trying to destroy the party and say we used under-handed tactics to win, which is not true."
She said there was no truth to even the idea of "young lions" in the DA.
In response to Van Damme's claims, Rapport editor Waldimar Pelser told News24 that while the weekly paper was not reported to anyone in the DA, it, like other media publications, benefited from leaks.
Pelser went to great lengths to explain the processes followed about getting tip-offs, emphasizing that no story was made on their papers without meeting journalistic standards.
"Anything that is leaked to us will gauge its newsworthiness, we will gauge its accuracy by doing a thorough examination of the facts," he said.
Mentioning recent reports on Maimane, Pelser added it was the newspaper's duty to "scrutinize" the politician as a leader.
"We've been unearthing stories about the DA for many years, a small number of them coming from leaks … we've been told a lot of things that we didn't do, either because we weren't newsworthy or we couldn't corroborate them. "
Pelser admitted that some "damaging stories" had a political effect but remained relevant and newsworthy, even citing that no one had argued against his recent story about Maimane driving around in a car donated by Steinhoff for months after the company's scandal broke.
"We do not believe all stories that are leaks are non-stories, some very important stories are sometimes leaks and equally we do not believe all stories that are damaging, especially to politicians, are unworthy of publication. Quite frankly, some of the most important stories that Rapport publishers are damaging to politicians, "he said.
"We considered it very newsworthy and I think the response from other media houses, including News24, proved that we were spot on. Steinhoff's story was very relevant to many voters, they were like: 'We don't like this, '"Pelser said.