South Africa's opposition Democratic Alliance is considering taking legal action after its leader Helen Zille came under attack for remarks against new President Jacob Zuma. Zille accused Zuma of being a womanizer with deeply held sexist views who is putting his three wives at risk by having unprotected sex with a lady who was HIV positive. The remark is generating controversy, with former guerrilla fighters loyal to President Zuma threatening to make ungovernable the Western Cape, the only region the opposition party controls. The COSATU trade union federation is also threatening strike action.
Paul Doughey is the spokesman for the opposition Democratic Alliance. He told VOA that the party stands firm behind the leader's controversial remark about the new president.
"In many respects the comments that have come from the tripartite alliance, including the ANC and its alliance partners reflect yet again an unacceptance to accept the outcome of the elections that were held recently where the DA won an outright majority in the Western Cape," Doughey said.
He said the opposition leader's remark is factual.
"The statements that Ms. Zille made regarding Mr. Zuma are undeniably true. During a court case heard a couple of years ago Mr. Zuma made it very clear that he had unprotected sex with a woman knowingly who had HIV/AIDS and therefore put at risk four of his wives. This statement is categorically true and undeniable," he said.
Doughey described as double standards reaction to the opposition leader's statement from supporters of the new president.
"The reaction of the alliance partners to the statement reveals more about themselves than it does anything that Ms. Zille said. In the context of their pointing out that there is a large degree of hypocrisy when it comes to criticizing the DA stance on things like gender, the ANC pays lips service to change in the lives of women in South Africa and undermines fundamental women's rights and freedoms," Doughey said.
He said the reaction from supporters of the president infringes on the tenets of South Africa's democracy.
"This is fundamentally an insult to the democratic process… in the 2006 local government elections the ANC tried every trick in the book in at least 12 occasions to try and unseat the DA-led coalition government because they simply can't face reality that an opposition party can govern in South Africa," he said.
Doughey said the verbal attacks the opposition leader has come under due to her statements are unlawful.
"And the statements that have been made by a number of institutions including the ANC Youth League are not only defamatory but in fact illegal. And any course to make the Western Cape ungovernable reflects not only a lack of respect for democratic due process, but also for the rule of law," Doughey said.
He described as immature statements from the ANC Youth League which has threatened militant action against the opposition leader if she failed to desist from making what the group described as disgusting remarks about President Zuma.
"The kind of language that they have used is extraordinarily gross. Insults that they have thrown at Ms. Helen Zille are so beyond description and it represents an immaturity in our political discourse. And it shows that people are intolerant to the opposition views," he said.
Doughey said the opposition DA party would not hesitate in taking the matter to court over insults on the personality of Ms. Zille.
"The language that is being used, the intemperate language the extraordinary insults that are being used has been turned at the personal character of Helen Zille are beyond the pale and we would be taking legal action as these statements are… extremely insulting," Doughey said.
The ruling African National Congress (ANC) sharply condemned Zille's remarks which the party claims showed she was out of touch with the country's mood. The remarks come after new President Zuma made conciliatory gestures to work with the opposition regarding deep divisions in the country.
Some political observers believe it is unclear if the row between Zille supporters and Zuma allies would dampen the new president's initial enthusiasm to reach out to opposition parties, in sharp contrast to his predecessor Thabo Mbeki, who enjoyed a frosty and at times hostile relationship with the opposition.
The ruling party's military wing under apartheid, described Zille's comments as racist. They have reportedly declared war on Zille if she does not retract her statement against President Jacob Zuma. Zuma was acquitted of rape in 2006 and also beat corruption charges when prosecutors dropped the case after eight years of investigation.
Zille wrote the letter in response to criticism that she was sexist after unveiling a male-dominated cabinet to serve in the Western Cape, where she is premier.