Phumzile van Damme vs Steenhuisen: Ugly battle erupts between corruption-buster and new DA leader

The Democratic Alliance (DA) can expect a legal showdown between two of its top officials come early 2021. Phumzile van Damme, who was the DA’s shadow minister for communication has been sidelined from the new Cabinet which was announced this week.

DA leader John Steenhuisen appointed DA MP Zak Mbele to lead the communication committee, saying Van Damme’s neurological illness had placed her in a compromising position and she should take a sabbatical.

“I remain incredibly concerned about your health situation and the four chronic illnesses that you have been diagnosed with. I understand that these have become incredibly debilitating for you to perform everyday functions, like walking, due to the chronic pain, vertigo and dizziness. I also know that you require significant periods of bed rest, said Steenhuisen in the letter he wrote to Van Damme.

Though Van Damme remains a member of the DA’s communication committee, she took objection to being granted a sabbatical she didn’t ask for. Later, Steenhuisen said Van Damme had the option to decline the sabbatical but did not.

“This is backpedalling making it seems like it was something he “offered.” If he’d asked and I said no, end of conversation, we wouldn’t be here. So, I intend to abide by his instruction. I will not allow the DA to drag my name through the mud. Never have. Won’t now.

“He later sent a letter to me saying quote “granting me sabbatical.” I’d say no to it in our conversation. His letter was codifying his view that he, as Leader, had the power, based on his prerogative to remove a member of *his Cabinet* on the grounds of health,” Van Damme wrote in a series of tweets.

To add heat to an already tense situation, DA Chief Whip Natasha Mazzone told The Daily Maverick that Van Damme was on sick leave for three months and much of her work was covered by her deputy, Cameron McKenzie.

“There is a genuine concern about Phumzile’s health. Of course, just shuffling the cabinet [to exclude her] would have been easier. But that doesn’t address what we believe to be a serious problem. Part of leadership is knowing if someone is suffering. [Van Damme] has been brave in documenting her illness; she had three months’ sick leave. But we felt that she would benefit from an extended break.”

Phumzile van Damme fights back on Twitter

Van Damme hit back on Twitter, saying she wanted to correct the false information pedalled by Mazzone. According to her, Mckenzie also took six months leave and she covered for him. While on her sick leave, she said she had worked throughout and still outperformed her colleagues.

To put paid to rumours around her sabbatical, Van Damme said she would go through her lawyers at the beginning of next year and publish the findings through the media.

“Like I said: the party will communicate with my lawyers in 2021 about this matter. In the meantime, every single inaccurate and untrue fact put out there in public, I will correct. No disinformation will pass. Public for public,” she wrote on Twitter.

Van Damme has been instrumental in holding Minister of Communications Stella Ndabeni Abrahams accountable. She was also at the forefront of exposing Bell Pottinger and their work with the Guptas.

According to the Daily Maverick, the tension between Steenhuisen and Van Damme stems from a comment she made at the beginning of the year during a Zoom meeting. She said: “I don’t want to hear his smarmy voice.”

As her microphone was not muted, Steenhuisen heard the comment and this contributed to a strained relationship between them. However, Mazzone said this was behind them now and they were focused on amicably working together.

Read more: 

CR’s economic recovery plan ‘a letter to Santa’ – DA’s John Steenhuisen

DA defends Van Damme, threatens Sunday Times after “liar and fraud” article


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