South Africa

Helen Zille eligible to run for top DA council position, says presiding officer

By News24 7 October 2019

Helen Zille is cleared to run for the position of the Democratic Alliance's (DA) chairperson of the federal council.

In 2017, former party leader Zille reached an agreement with DA leader Mmusi Maimane after a series of controversial tweets about colonialism.

According to this deal, Zille agreed to vacate her position on all decision-making structures of the party, including the Federal Executive, federal council and provincial council of the DA.

She remained premier of the Western Cape and her public communication was limited to her role as premier.

Amid speculation about Zille’s eligibility based on this, and a report by Business Day stating that the DA is seeking legal advice on whether Zille can contest the position, the DA’s presiding officer on council elections, Désirée van der Walt, on Monday said the party has taken note of “incorrect reports” that the party is seeking a legal opinion.

“We wish to dismiss this notion,” Van der Walt said in a statement.

“As the Presiding Officer, I am satisfied that all those who have been nominated have been fully vetted and meet the criteria to stand as candidate of Chairperson of Federal Council.

“In this light, we wish to remind all the candidates and their campaign teams of the rules of engagement, which preclude candidates from negative campaigning.”

Zille raised a few eyebrows last week when she announced that she will be contesting the position, which will be vacated by long-serving James Selfe, who will head up the party’s governance unit tasked with supporting DA governments to ensure they delivered better to citizens.

Also contesting for the position is DA federal chairperson Athol Trollip, deputy chairperson of the federal council Thomas Walters, and deputy national chairperson Mike Waters.

Trollip is leader of the opposition in the Nelson Mandela Bay council, after he was controversially removed as mayor by the ANC, EFF and UDM. Waters and Walters are MPs. Waters was the deputy chief whip in the Fifth Parliament, but lost out to Jacques Julius for the current Parliament.

Shortly before the deadline for nominations closed on Friday, Zille announced that she is in the running, after “careful consideration and consultation” and approaches from senior party members in the week.

On Monday, she told eNCA’s morning host Jane Dutton she decided to make herself available firstly, because she was “asked to” and secondly, because she believed she could bring “unity and stability to the party again”.

“Many people approached me. I can’t let the DA simply unravel without putting in a huge and final effort to help stop it,” Zille said in the interview.

“If I’m not elected, then I’m not elected, and I’ll move on. But if I can have one last chance at making sure we are on track again then I’d like to do that.”

She led the party between 2007 and 2015. During this period, the party experienced electoral growth allowing them to govern the Western Cape from 2009 onwards, with Zille as premier until her second term came to an end before this year’s election.

A dismal showing at this year’s polls places Maimane’s leadership under pressure while fissures in the party are seemingly opening up.

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