DA leader, John Steenhuisen, has confirmed that he has given Phumzile Van Damme a sabbatical.

Van Damme had disclosed the matter on Twitter on Friday afternoon, vowing to fight the move.

The MP said she had been on sick leave for three months; disclosed her illness even though she didn’t need to and now it was being used against her.

However, Steenhuisen has told SABC Digital News that there is nothing untoward in the matter.

The DA leader says: “I have had to make changes to my Shadow Cabinet after my election having inherited a Shadow Cabinet I did not appoint. It is the prerogative of the leader to do so and has been exercised by every DA leader. This is a decision made in consultation with the caucus leadership and with Ms Van Damme’s best interest at heart. I am sorry she is trying to portray it otherwise.”

Van Damme’s alleged unsolicited sabbatical under the spotlight:

On the campaign trail

Steenhuisen is campaigning in Ward 55 in the Bluff, south of Durban, ahead of next week’s by-election.

Speaking to SABC News on the sidelines of the campaign, the DA leader welcomed President Cyril Ramaphosa’s decision not to move the country into a higher level of the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown. He also welcomed the tighter controls expected in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro, due to the increasing number of positive COVID-19 cases in that province.

“Our economy doesn’t have space or the fiscal ability to lockdown for an extended period. This isn’t Germany or Europe, we’re a developing economy and many South Africans live from hand to mouth. If they’re unable to earn a living, they’re unable to put food on the table. And that’s why I’m very grateful to the President, he didn’t move us into a stronger form of lockdown because he’s also realised the lockdown has been devastating. 3.5 million jobs lost, many businesses closed,” he said.

Next week’s by-election in Ward 66 in the Bluff, south of Durban, is being contested by six candidates. The ward seat became vacant after the DA councillor resigned.

Residents in the area say they hope for change in their living circumstances.

“Well I live next to an alley and I’ve got a field across, people are struggling, we’re trying our best to help them and we always have a problem with pollution. You smell gas, that cat wee smell, there’s always pollution in the air. We would always love infrastructure to be improved on the Bluff here. Pollution is something that the community has been trying to tackle for some time now. To get our blue flag beaches back. We had a major storm that happened on the Bluff and it broke down our roads and damaged our beaches, we want our blue flag status back,” they told SABC News.

Pollution has been one of the most pressing concerns for residents in the industry-heavy area. On Friday, an explosion at the nearby Engen Oil Refinery left seven people injured. There’s also renewed criticism from residents and environmental activists over a continued lack of an evacuation plan in the event of such a disaster.

Engen has confirmed investigations into Friday’s fire.