DA leader John Steenhuisen maintains that he will not apologise for his party’s controversial election posters in Phoenix, Durban, that caused outrage among many South Africans.
Steenhuisen says the messaging on the posters – which read: “The ANC called you racists” and “The DA calls you heroes” – has been “misinterpreted”.
He says all his party was trying to do was to pay tribute to “law-abiding citizens of all colours who stood up for law and order” during the deadly July unrest that engulfed parts of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.
In an interview with the City Press, Steenhuisen said he was willing to accept that the “misinterpretation” of the DA’s message upset people and this wasn’t ideal for the party’s election campaign.
But he would still not apologise for calling South Africans who stood up for the rule of law heroes.
“I won’t apologise for refusing to call South Africans, regardless of their colour, who stood up for law and order and protected their businesses, homes, livelihoods and communities from violent looters, vigilantes who took the law into their own hands and acted criminally. They were heroes for stepping in when government retreated and allowed lawlessness and destruction to take hold,” Steenhuisen was quoted as saying.
Despite the DA taking down the posters after sustained public pressure and internal divisions over the poster saga, the DA leader said he hoped South Africans would understand his party’s message, saying they had no ill intentions and were not trying to stir racial tensions in Phoenix.
He refused to comment on whether the DA would take disciplinary action against those responsible for putting up the posters, saying the Federal Legal Commission would deal with the matter.
Phoenix has been a hotbed of racial tension since the looting and riots in July. More than 30 people died and over 50 were injured in the area during violent unrest and looting that occurred in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, ostensibly triggered by the arrest of former president Jacob Zuma.
On Thursday, DA KwaZulu-Natal chairperson Dean Macpherson apologised for the posters which “inadvertently caused offence”.
Macpherson said the posters were never sanctioned by Steenhuisen, party structures and campaign leadership.
“In my sincere effort to honour the bravery and heroism of law-abiding citizens who were left to fend for themselves during the July riots and insurrections, the posters have regretfully caused hurt to some people. I am deeply sorry and apologise for this,” Macpherson said.
ANC deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte said although it was a “good thing” that the DA took the posters down, the governing party would still go ahead with its Human Rights Commission complaint.
Additional reporting by Gareth Cotterell