South Africa

Interview

Helen Zille: Why I am returning to politics

Helen Zille: Why I am returning to politics
Western Cape Premier Helen Zille in Cape Town, 10 October 2018. Photo: Leila Dougan

In the political surprise of the week, former DA party leader has thrown her hat in the ring to become the party’s chair of the federal council. We asked her why she made the move and what she thinks her chances are.

Question By all accounts, you were going to retire from political life. You said you were primarily going to be a granny, to be a part-time fellow and also a podcaster in your YouTube series Tea with Helen. What prompted the change of heart?

Answer I thought exactly the same until Thursday morning (October 3), when I started seriously considering the requests I had received. I have been loving retirement and my new fields of interest. Then I just felt I had to try to help stabilise the DA and support the leadership in doing so. So I put my hat in the ring.

Q. Is the role of DA federal chairperson a powerful role or a bureaucratic one? In other words, how much authority will you have to change the DA as you clearly believe its strategy and path is incorrect?

A. The role is influential, but primarily a ‘bureaucratic’ one, at the point where the systems, structures and processes of the party come together. It is a supportive role, not one that sets a direction or charts a course.

Q. In your early discussions and consultations, you say you have had with members, what do you think your chances are? You are up against quite a strong field. (Four candidates are contesting: Athol Trollip is the frontrunner, with Mike Waters and Thomas Walters also running)

A. I really do not know what my chances are because I have not seen an updated list of delegates to Federal Council and I have done no canvassing whatsoever, so I do not know the lay of the land. I’ll find out in the next week or so.

Q. Your political position appears to have moved from progressive liberalism to conservative libertarianism in your recent writings and positions, largely on social media. Will you seek to move the DA in a similar direction should you be successful?

A. My position as a liberal is what it always has been. Liberalism (properly defined) is a progressive political philosophy. I am not a libertarian, as I believe a capable state is central to giving expression to liberal ideals.

Q. You say you were approached by senior leaders in the party to stand. Who are these senior leaders and why did they approach you?

A. They don’t expect to see their names mentioned on this in the newspapers, so I am not naming names.

Q. In the language you developed, do you think party leader Mmusi Maimane is “fit for purpose” for the DA?

A. My role, if I am elected, will be to support the direction given by leadership, not to speak about things unilaterally to the media.

Q. You present your decision to run for active political leadership again as an act of both saving the DA and saving the country. Is this not hubris or do you think both party and country are on the brink of collapse?

A. It is my view that SA’s democracy depends on the DA’s success. I think I can contribute to that as I have substantial experience in all aspects of governance and the party. Of course, no-one is indispensable. But I want to do my best to help get things back on track. The DA has been through a difficult time, as is clear for anyone with eyes to see. DM

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