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Ghaleb Cachalia quits DA over Gaza, spits fire at wider party issues

Ghaleb Cachalia quits DA over Gaza, spits fire at wider party issues
Outgoing Democratic Alliance MP Ghaleb Cachalia. (Photo: Gallo Images / Beeld / Deaan Vivier)

Some six weeks after being demoted by the Democratic Alliance over his public criticism of Israel, prominent MP Ghaleb Cachalia has quit the party altogether – but not before taking aim at the DA leadership.

‘Dysfunctional, undemocratic and authoritarian.”

That’s outgoing DA MP Ghaleb Cachalia’s summary of the current ethos of the Democratic Alliance (DA), as contained in a 30-page resignation package posted by Cachalia on X on Thursday.  

The former DA spokesperson on public enterprises wrote that he believed he was likely to be axed from the party lists of returning MPs after the 2024 elections as a result of the breakdown of relations between him and DA leader John Steenhuisen.

Cachalia has been living on borrowed time since he was disciplined for tweeting a description of Israel’s actions in Gaza as “genocide” in late October 2023. Since then, despite warnings from the party, he has continued to be outspoken on matters such as South Africa’s approach to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) over Israel, and the dropping of South Africa’s U-19 cricket captain David Teeger over the latter’s support for Israeli soldiers.

Cachalia’s resignation comes as anger has grown towards the DA in some quarters, particularly in the Western Cape, over the party’s stance towards the Israeli bombardment of Gaza and its refusal to clearly call for a ceasefire.

But as Cachalia’s dossier makes clear, his issues with the DA leadership run deeper than concerns over freedom of speech.

Helen Zille allegedly advised Cachalia to wait it out

Cachalia’s publicly tweeted resignation letter was accompanied by some 29 pages of accompanying documents, the release of which will not have pleased the DA.

Cachalia, the son of ANC Struggle icons Yusuf and Amina Cachalia, noted in a letter to DA chair Helen Zille this week that his ongoing position in the DA had cost him “considerable opprobrium from a number of friends, colleagues and even family members”.

After being demoted by Steenhuisen in November, Cachalia wrote that he had made several attempts to meet the DA party leader and enter mediation, none of which were successful. 

He also claims in his letter that Zille herself advised him to “allow things to blow over” as a result of “Steenhuisen’s high level of current anger around issues concerning me”.

Despite this, Cachalia recorded that he had experienced ongoing “alienation” which he interprets as a prelude to Steenhuisen “blocking my return to Parliament” via a “manipulation of the system”.

He writes, however, that it would be unjust to have his return to the parliamentary benches thwarted, given his attainment of “a 100% score” in the DA’s evaluation of his performance in the legislature between May 2019 and November 2023.

The final straw from the party’s perspective appears to have been an interview Cachalia gave to Newzroom Afrika on 11 January 2024 in which he expressed enthusiastic support for the South African government’s decision to approach the ICJ over the Gaza onslaught.

The DA’s spokesperson on international relations, Emma Powell, previously summarised the party’s official stance on the ICJ quest to Daily Maverick as follows:

“Any country has the right to approach the ICJ. The DA will await the court’s findings. It is, however, a great pity that the South African government has consistently ignored gross human rights violations on our own doorstep. The DA continues to support a viable two-state solution as per the relevant UN Security Council Resolutions and calls for an urgent mediated settlement to this abhorrent war.”

Following Cachalia’s interview, Powell wrote to Cachalia – as revealed by his dossier – to accuse him of “heaping praise and glory on our kleptocratic national government”.

Wrote Powell: “With astounding hubris, you proceeded to muse that former ANC leaders such as Albert Luthuli and Nelson Mandela would have likely supported your position”.

Powell also accused Cachalia of “hypocrisy and intellectual dishonesty” in “continuing to draw a salary from a seat that you occupy in Parliament on behalf of the Democratic Alliance, whilst actively repudiating our policies and positions in the public arena”.

Powell informed Cachalia that she was consequently reporting him to both the DA’s federal legal commission and the party’s Gauteng provincial executive for disciplinary action and a possible reconsideration of his MP candidacy.

In Cachalia’s letter to Zille, he contends that Powell has no legal ability to take this action, and alleges that Powell has been used to “drive the Steenhuisen agenda” by sending him a letter “clearly crafted by Steenhuisen’s team”.

He further argues that his statements on Newzroom Afrika were, in any event, not in violation of the DA’s constitution because a “final and binding policy position” on the matter had yet to be taken by the party’s parliamentary caucus.

DA leadership marked by ‘pettiness, short-sightedness, authoritarianism’

Cachalia’s resignation pulled no punches in a wider critique of the current DA leadership, which he argues has been hijacked by Steenhuisen in an undemocratic fashion. 

Cachalia charges that this is particularly the case when it comes to controversial policy on issues such as the current Gaza conflict: in his letter to Zille, Cachalia claims that Powell had previously complained to him about the “hoops” her statements on international relations had to pass through.

Cachalia also contends that Steenhuisen’s leadership has failed to address confusion about the party’s position on key issues and has failed to produce a coherent policy platform.

Describing the current leadership as marked by “pettiness, short-sightedness, authoritarianism and departure from the values and principles of the party”, Cachalia also argues that the DA is drifting from its ideological home.

“The party’s worrying move away from the centre of the political spectrum, in its embracing of right-wing tribal, religious and ultra-libertarian partners, the appointment of PR/lobbying/electoral firms with decidedly dubious pasts and the wooing of organisations like the Afrikanerbond to endorse the Multi-Party Charter, present serious cause for concern,” he wrote.

The DA fired back in a quietly furious statement on Thursday afternoon, saying that the party “categorically rejects the claims Cachalia has manufactured in an attempt to justify his resignation, including his mischaracterisation of the party’s position on the war in Gaza”.

The statement said that the DA was home to a multitude of divergent opinions which members respect – “except for Ghaleb Cachalia”.

Cachalia’s “disrespect for party processes, for his colleagues, and for the diversity of views in the DA” has “mounted over time,” party spokesperson Solly Malatsi charged.

“The party rejects Cachalia’s attempts to scapegoat DA leader John Steenhuisen, which are belied by his full-throated support for Steenhuisen during the party’s recent Federal Congress. Less than a year ago, Cachalia declared on Facebook his ‘admiration’ for Steenhuisen, pointing out that he ‘walks the talk’ as a leader,” Malatsi stated.

On social media, some commentators did not hesitate to point out that Cachalia’s own response to the previous resignation of high-profile DA figures has been less than sympathetic, including accusing them of playing “the race card”.

Cachalia told Daily Maverick on Thursday that his next moves were not yet confirmed, but that he was considering a range of options, from standing as an independent political candidate to working in a consultant capacity within politics or civil society.

Israel is a wedge issue dividing parties internationally

However remote geographically, the current Middle East conflict remains a wedge issue for political parties globally.

Cachalia is not the first South African politician to step down as a direct result of the local discourse around Gaza. 

In November 2023, an Action SA senate member, Mustafa Darsot, resigned from Herman Mashaba’s party, citing Action SA’s failure to condemn Israel’s actions in Gaza.

While the DA may have acted decisively when it comes to Cachalia, it has not been lost on observers that other DA figures appear to be enjoying greater freedom when it comes to expressing views on the other ideological side of the conflict.

DA councillor Renaldo Gouws, the party’s spokesperson for economic development in Nelson Mandela Bay, continues to tweet full-throated opinions in support of Israel without evident repercussions. DM

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  • Gareth Dickens says:

    Seems all the departures are black and brown. Mamphele Ramphele, Patricia de Lille, John Moodey, Lindiwe Mazibuko, Mbali Ntuli, Makashule Gana, Phumzile van Damme,Khume Ramulifho, Mmusi Maimane, Herman Mashaba, Bongani Baloyi…..to name a few.

    Just what kind of black person does the DA prefer? Bogles the mind really!
    It’s a historical and present fact that things never quite turn out well for the darker races whenever white folks have political power. There I said it!

    • J vN says:

      The DA has more voters and more members who aren’t white, than it has white members or voters.

      Many white members have left the DA too, the most prominent recent one being Athol Trollip.

      But hey, don’t let the facts stop you from persisting with your racial paranoia which “bogles” [sic] your mind.

    • R S says:

      That’s because those are the names that come up in the news. And they’re still a tiny portion of all the people of colour in the DA.

      Also shame on your for leaving Athol Trollip out to try and make a point.

    • Rdp Pdr says:

      Bad bad white people!

    • PETER BAKER says:

      Yup…..very true but as we all know, the only thing more corrupt, incompetent, and bad for black people governmentwise, than a “white government”….is a black government!

    • Skinyela Skinyela says:

      Didn’t Athol Trollip also left?

    • Impie Mann says:

      Agreed, the DA under Zille/Steenhuizen has systematically alienated black leaders, and their neutral stance on Israel’s genocide in Palestine is now final testament to their unwillingness to be agents of change. The country is so effed up and the DA was standing on the precipice of opportunity with the upcoming election, but have lost the plot and my vote.

      • Kanu Sukha says:

        Did you mean pretend “neutral” stance ? After all, what is unfolding is a struggle between a fully equipped (by the biggest military complex in the world .. the US) military state and a poorly equipped group of ‘armed’ resistance fighters with no military. Can you imagine the situation if they had the aerial capability of dropping bombs on the occupying force also ? There is a saying that comes to mind … in the struggle between the powerful and the poor, being neutral is to side with the powerful !

    • James Webster says:

      And whenever the darker races have political power everything goes to hell in a hand basket.

  • Bink Bin Oik says:

    Principles before popularism.
    Bravo Emma. Bravo DA.
    Sad to see the old man, with such distinguished character, leave on such bad terms, muddied by illogical ideological dogma of yesteryear.

  • Coen Gous says:

    Not sure what the DA’s policies are anymore. Neither am I sure if they will still be a factor come election time. Can however predict that they will lose the Western Cape as the outright winner. Seems like this province will be under coalition, likely with FF+ and perhaps some more smaller parties

  • Steve Davidson says:

    “Israel is a wedge issue dividing parties internationally”

    Never was a truer headline written. I wonder why?

    • Andrew Terhorst says:

      It is interesting the Abrahamic religions are the source of so much conflict. Christian Crusades, Islamic States, Zionism, the Troubles, Reformation, Spanish Inquistion. I have no time for religious ideology. Any rationale person would question why one would side with any secular state. Only idiots back a particular secular state or ideology.

  • Denise Smit says:

    Next move: Rise Manzi or the newly formed party of the businessman who wants to be President. Most probably the latter. His move is a religeous matter

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    To politicians and public figures: by all means have your personal opinion on Gaza but recognise it for what it is : opinion; and keep it to yourself.

    Not doing so is destroying our country needlessly to the benefit of no one.

    • Mohsin Wadee says:

      You wouldn’t say the same about the Ukraine war. A politician without an opinion is a headless chicken.

      No DA politician kept quiet about Ukraine, so why double standards over Israel and Gaza??????

    • Mohsin Wadee says:

      You wouldn’t say the same about the Ukraine war. A politician without an opinion is a headless chicken.

      No DA politician kept quiet about Ukraine, so why double standards over Israel and Gaza??????

  • JP K says:

    The DA recognises the right of return. It also condems the expansion of settlements. A solution should be found to settlements. It condems violence (from both sides) and genocidal statements. It supports a two state solution. Tunnels should be destroyed. The Palestinian state should fully recognise the state of Israel. There should be a shared capital, Jerusalem.

    Now what is Steenhuisen missing… Oh yes. Israel practices Apartheid both within Israel and in the occupied territories which, according to Andrew Feinstein is more brutal than South Africa ever was because SA needed black labour whereas Israel wants to get rid of Palestinians. Oh yes. And besides Apartheid, Israel is an occupying power which since its formation has been conducting ethnic cleansing.

    • Coen Gous says:

      Well, Israel Prime Minister has made it clear Israel is not interested in a two state solution, and will continue the war regardless of the decision of the World Court

    • robby 77 says:

      Cool, have you been to Israel? I have, multiple times. I’m sure you have walked from Tel Aviv to Jaffa where multiple mosques are situated and the call to prayer rings out 5 times a day. Andrew Feinstein is quite deluded, ergo so are you.

  • Loren Anthony says:

    Dear DA, you are in very real danger of losing heavily in the 2024 elections. You have managed to excommunicate all quality leaders who have a support base outside your narrow bubble of white privilege (Maimane, Mazibuko, etc., now Cachalia). You are tone-deaf to the Grant message the ANC is promulgating as one of its primary campaign messages (reaching 12-14 million people), with no counter-campaign to educate voters that the Grant system is a function of the Constitution, not individual political parties. Your stance on Israel is a vital misstep (see how Biden is polling in the US as a result). Your inability to move beyond knee-jerk criticism of the ANC to sound policy planning aimed at job creation and social welfare means there is no vision for South Africans to hold on to. You need to get some young blood and diversity into your comms team otherwise your role as official opposition party will be no more, and the red berets will seize the day. Wake up!

  • mike van wyk says:

    Sounds like sour grapes to me… Israel and by proxy, the Jews people of South Africa, have worked to create and grow massive enterprises within SA; thereby creating jobs and improving the lives and living standards of many millions of South Africans. Which is more than that can be said of those who attempt to slander the Jewish people – they don’t build, but destroy and undermine South Africa’s ability to flourish and for its people to prosper. It’s all about mindset.

  • G. Strauss says:

    I’d like to sound a note of caution here: Beware of domestic people/forces that will consider it to their advantage to stoke suspicion and mistrust between different population groups in SA. I think our country has been a shining beacon for years for the peaceful manner in which our Muslim and Jewish populations have existed peacefully alongside one another for centuries. These divisions can only play out in favour of those who want to discredit the DA or other parties or voices in this conflict. As deeply emotional as it is, remember it is not our war. It is fair to say that Israel’s response to the October attacks is excessive, but do not confuse it with genocide.

  • Geoff Coles says:

    Religion and Politics often don’t fit together

  • Brian Doyle says:

    Here fault is on both sides. As Democratic South Africans we can hold views on whatever is going on in the world, but to start taking sides in other countries happenings is stupid, especially when there is so much wrong in our country. This is where the energy should be spent and Politicians should know that

    • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

      100%. And to all of you who say I know who’s right! I know who’s wrong!, I say phooey to you – you are simply a product of your society and you are functionally unable to objective and honest appraise an extremely complex and nuanced situation.

      I will also go as far as to say I can ask any individual 2 questions:
      1. What religion are you; and
      2. What racial group are you

      And with a very high degree of accuracy identify that person’s position in the conflict.

      The observant will note that “What is your real depth of knowledge of the situation” doesn’t even factor as a question here as individual positions are emotional rather than logical.

      This blind positioning is so destructive and so pointless, particularly against the backdrop of problems we are drowning in at home that we pay our politicians to actually focusing on.

  • Pieter van de Venter says:

    Wonder why his convictions were not as strong with the Sudan massacres, or Ukraine or even more important – Syria where Muslim turned on Muslin that tries to fight for freedom and the right to vote? Mmm Cachalia?? Or are you a lost Palestinian?

  • John Lewis says:

    Good riddance.

  • Abel Mngadi says:

    It is concerning that most of those resigning is as a result of differing opinion to the policy of DA. Did they not know of these policies from the start. Did they not know that DA supports Israel quietly and strongly? Hence they are quiet about those who openly supports Israel and take no action. As for Solly, his day is coming or else he must continue to be a yes man.

  • PETER BAKER says:

    I am a member of the DA and support them at all levels….but I am very strongly against their Gaza Genocide policy. Israel is the demon here and I believe that severe sanctions must be imposed on them. But just because they have one bad policy….(and have many very good policies) doesn’t mean that I will not vote for them at every opportunity. Cachalia should argue OUR case as strongly as he can from withing the greater good of the DA.

  • Andre Grobler says:

    Well i admire the Cachalia family as a whole, and didn’t think a relationship with th DA would last.. but seriously what did he expect WEF style socialism for the poor… more capitalism for the rich… if i have to choose that or libertarianism… i would choose libertarianism… liberalism has been swallowed by the rich so they can guilt trip the rest of us into poverty… and dependent serfdom… i would have thought people as intelligent and clued up as you would get this? The DA has to go get their lost flock back from the libertarians, because they lost the ones who saw that, or just got tired of Steenhuisen’s inane yap yapping and headboy style grandiose speeches.

  • MUSHTAQ ANWARY says:

    Thank you for publishing this article. This is what I expect from a quality and fair publication. That’s why I am an insider. As for Israel’s war on Gazza, it was Hamas a resistance movement that tacked Israel not the citizens of Gazza. Killing of more than 24000 people mostly children and women is criminal. Israel has no choice but to sit at the negotiating table with the Palestinians for a final solution, earlier the better. The rate at which Israel is making enemies I wonder how long it will last without peace.

  • Just Me says:

    None of the people have any substantial reason for leaving the ANC. It turns out that all seem to have ego’s that are bigger than the party.

  • James Webster says:

    It’s not like he’s a biased blindly pro-Palestinian muslim or anything.

  • Naushad Omar says:

    The DA continues to support a viable two-state solution – Emma Powell. Really? The 2-state solution that never seems to happen but only spoken about. Or is it a 2-state solution like our Bantustan system? Or is it the 2-state solution of Netenyahoo who said over his dead body. DA must take a principled stand for a single state solution, for equal rights for both Palestinian and Israeli and return of all refugees and compensation paid for 75 years of oppression, ethnic cleansing, dispossession and war crimes. The Palestinians are the victims. Not settlers who arrived from Europe, USA, Russia and the surrounding Arab countries. DA already lost my vote, and they will lose the Western Cape too because of their perceived support for the apartheid state of Israel.

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