Following President Jacob Zuma’s visit to some of the Knysna fire disaster areas on Thursday, Western Cape Premier Helen Zille said she thought the president, on a personal level, was “empathetic and charming”.
She has always maintained this opinion of the man, having called him charming years ago as well.
Zuma and Zille were accompanied to the area – ravaged by fires fanned by gale-force winds last week – by Cooperative Governance Minister Des van Rooyen, DA provincial leader Bonginkosi Madikizela‚ as well as other officials.
The premier explained to Zuma the extent of the disaster, which resulted in 10 000 people being evacuated from their homes and several people killed.
They started their site visits in Knysna Heights and later moved to White Location and other affected areas.
Zille – who faced public backlash earlier this week after her apology for her alleged racist tweets in March defending aspects of colonialism’s legacy – took to Twitter stating: “As we walked through the ash and ruins he [Zuma] asked me how I was bearing up personally.”
According to a political settlement announced on Tuesday, meant to put to rest the public spat between Zille and party leader Mmusi Maimane over the tweets, the former DA leader agreed to step down from all positions within the party as sanction, though she remains in her government position as premier until her term ends in 2019.
Zille and Zuma were both well received by residents in the fire-affected areas. Some residents danced and sang with her. Zille said the experience was “totally heart-warming. The second-best moment of the last three months. The best was the birth of my grand-daughter,” she said in a later tweet.
The premier has encouraged citizens to visit the annual Oyster Festival in Knysna next month to help rebuild the area’s economy.
The Western Cape government on Wednesday said it would release R75 million in emergency funding to assist with the damage in Knysna and other surrounding areas.