Thapelo Lekabe
Digital Journalist
4 minute read
21 May 2021
10:46 am

Phumzile Van Damme says ‘genuine mistake made’ and she’s still a DA member

Thapelo Lekabe

Van Damme says she doesn't know where the DA got its information from, and it will have to fire her if that's the outcome it wants.

Former DA MP Phumzile van Damme.

Former DA MP Phumzile Van Damme on Friday clarified that she was still a member of the official opposition party.

The outspoken politician took to Twitter to say that that she had only resigned as an MP and not from the DA, after the DA itself and numerous media outlets assumed she had quit the party.

She said she had actually said in her MP resignation letter to the DA that she would remain in the DA and that if the party now thought different then it must have been a “genuine mistake” or a “misunderstanding”.

She tweeted: “Just a point of correction. I resigned as an MP. I remain a member of the DA.” She has also said on Twitter that the DA would have to formally terminate her membership if that’s what it comes to.

ALSO READ: DA lauds outgoing MP Van Damme for ‘extraordinary service’

Party spokesperson Siviwe Gwarube had apparently confirmed on Thursday through a statement that the DA had received and accepted Van Damme’s resignation as an MP and from the party.

Van Damme said that in her letter to the DA’s leadership she had made no indication that she was terminating her membership. She said did not know where the party got its information from.

Van Damme’s sudden resignation as an MP did not really shock many South Africans as the party has in recent years lost several of its prominent black leaders.

In October 2019, the party’s first black leader, Mmusi Maimane, led an exodus of members who left the DA following the re-election of Helen Zille as federal council chair after the party’s poor showing in the 2019 general elections.

Without elaborating on her reasons for stepping down, Van Damme made it clear it was not because the DA is perceived as a racist party, but due to her unhappiness with a “clique of individuals”.

‘Forced’ sabbatical

It appears she started falling out with the DA’s new leadership under John Steenhuisen in December 2020 after she was forced to go on a three-month sabbatical she did not request.

At the time, the DA’s chief whip, Natasha Mazzone, told the media the sabbatical was granted to Van Damme due to a “debilitating chronic illness” she was suffering from.

Not one to shy away from confrontation, Van Damme took to Twitter to dispute her party’s version of the events leading up to the announcement on her leave.

She accused Mazzone of spreading false information about her and claimed Steenhuisen had merely informed her of the sabbatical after she returned from sick leave for three months.

She said she would challenge the sabbatical “on principle” and that she had disclosed her illness to the DA even though she had not been required to.

In August 2020 she opened up about her diagnosis. She had a neurological disorder affecting the functioning of the nervous system.

Steenhuisen defended the party’s decision to grant Van Damme the sabbatical even though she had never requested it. Speaking on the campaign trail in December 2020 in Durban, the DA leader said the decision was not taken out of malice.

“It is well known that her health has been a challenge, so the break was offered to her as a way to recoup her strength. But it is unfortunate that she has reacted the way she has,” he said at the time.

Steenhuisen axes Van Damme from shadow cabinet

Van Damme has also made it no secret that she believes some individuals in the DA were using her illness to sideline her and claimed she was incapable of carrying out her duties due to the stressful nature of her job. She has strongly denied this claim.

After she publicly complained about the three-month sabbatical the DA granted her, Van Damme was axed by Steenhuisen from his shadow cabinet.

The cabinet consists of the DA’s MPs who act as spokespersons on the government’s various departments.

Van Damme was replaced by Zakhele Mbhele as the party’s spokesperson on communications and digital technologies in Parliament.

Read her tweets below: