Former DA leader Helen Zille won one of the party’s most influential positions at this weekend’s DA federal council meeting, while the party’s future and Mmusi Maimane’s leadership will be decided at upcoming policy and elective congresses.
Zille beat Maimane’s preferred candidate, Athol Trollip, as well as Mike Waters and Thomas Walters in an election for the council chairperson and will be responsible for the organisation and administration of the party as well as implementing federal council and federal executive decisions.
“I will stay in my lane. This is a job that coordinates the different structures, functions, systems and processes of the DA,” said Zille in a press briefing after her election.
Zille, who led the party from 2007 to 2015, has said the party lost support in the May 2019 general elections due to its “race-based politics” and is widely seen as a leader of the opposition to Maimane’s efforts to embrace policies linking race to historical redress.
“I think people are worried that I won’t stay in my lane and I think the problem is many people have only seen me in a leadership position,” said Zille.
“I can manage something and I can clean the toilets,” she said, referring to former federal council chairperson James Selfe’s claim that the job is akin to a toilet cleaner.
On Sunday, Zille said she would support Maimane and work behind the scenes to implement the party’s vision.
“I respect and support the leader and the leadership and I will do my very best to ensure they are successful to take the DA to the next peak we have to reach,” she said.
“I will stick to the role that I have.”
To Maimane, she said, “I’m here to support you and I’m here to make sure our great vision succeeds.”
Zille entered the race for the chairperson of the federal council at the last minute. She was forced to step away from the party’s decision-making structures in 2017 over her comments claiming the legacy of colonialism was not wholly negative. Zille said the agreement to step back from DA structures did not preclude her from returning to a leadership position.
She joined the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) as a senior policy fellow in July after her term as Western Cape premier ended in May. She stepped down from the IRR while campaigning for the DA position.
The IRR launched a campaign to save the DA, claiming it had strayed from its tradition and had endorsed black DA members who had spoken publicly on race matters.
Zille’s victory is a blow for Maimane, who was looking to Trollip to unite the party behind his vision and isolate his detractors. Zille said she will follow the party’s decisions, rather than those of individuals.
“When you say whose values and decisions are going to take precedence, the DA’s are,” she said.
Maimane said on Zille’s election, “Certainly, I think it will be good. It brings a new energy. She will be full-time in the role. She will work with vigour.”
Maimane continued to emphasise the need to link historical redress to race and the importance of unifying the party. He reportedly told federal council members who have rallied to return the party to its classical liberal roots to leave if they disagreed with the DA’s agenda.
“From time to time in a political environment you must disagree,” said Maimane.
“Apartheid was a systemic crime against black South Africans and when you deal with justice you must deal with those issues.”
The DA and Maimane’s future will be determined at its first ever policy conference and an early elective congress, to be held in 2020. Maimane suggested he would decide whether to stand for re-election as party leader depending on the outcome of the policy congress.
The DA federal council also deliberated on a review led by former leader Tony Leon, former party strategist Ryan Coetzee and Capitec founder Michiel le Roux.
The party said the report led to a number of council resolutions, including establishing a policy review committee, convened by Zille, to review the party’s positions on economic justice and jobs. An investigation will also be conducted into the DA’s response to the Schweizer-Reneke school scandal, where a teacher was criticised for racism and later won her case against the school, leading to criticism of the DA’s stance on the matter.
The DA will also establish committees to implement the review panel’s recommendations, review its constitution and structures. The party will review the role and appoint a new CEO after Paul Boughey resigned this week. DM
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