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Zille makes a political comeback

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Zille’s victory against the other three contenders was viewed as having left the party leader’s political career hanging in the balance as she was close to those who wanted him out

South Africa - Johannesburg - 20 October 2019 - Democratic Alliance (DA) today chose the former Western Cape Premier Helen Zille as their new Federal Council leader to succeed James Selfe at their head offices in Bruma Johannesburg. Picture: Simphiwe Mbokazi/African News Agency(ANA).

DA leader Mmusi Maimane has indicated that he might not seek re-election when the party holds an early congress next year if the official opposition rejects his vision at its upcoming policy conference.

Yesterday, the DA concluded its crucial meeting of the federal council in which it discussed the review panel report which looked into the party’s leadership and bad electoral performance in the recent general elections.

The meeting also saw the dramatic return of former party leader Helen Zille as the new chairperson of the federal council, replacing James Selfe in the powerful position.

Zille’s victory against the other three contenders, including Maimane’s ally Athol Trollip, was viewed as having left the party leader’s political career hanging in the balance as she was close to those who wanted him out.

Zille, who enjoyed support from the party’s traditional support base, had openly questioned the policy direction of the DA under Maimane, saying she was forced to run for the post because the party was moving away from its liberal values.

DA federal council spokesperson Refiloe Ntsekhe said the party’s top brass resolved against Maimane’s removal.

“Maimane will lead the DA until somebody decides to step up to the game and run against him at federal congress. He has been supported. We still believe in him. He will lead this organisation until the congress takes place in 2020,” Nsekhe said.

While Maimane and the leadership of the DA refused to reveal the specifics of how delegates appraised his leadership, he indicated that his availability at the next congress could depend on the success of his vision for the party at its upcoming policy conference.

“I must deal with this policy conference because the policy conference is coming up now and I actually want our values and our principles to be given more life so that we can make a compelling offer to all South Africans. If that vision finds expression there, then you can lead,” Maimane said.

Speaking alongside Zille, Maimane defended the party’s current policy posture amid the accusation that he and his leadership collective had allowed race-based policies into the party, despite the DA being non-racial.

He said the party had no choice but to deal with the issue of justice and the legacy of apartheid as it “was a systemic crime against black South Africans”.

“I have certainly never shied away from the fact that this is the DA I want to see. I think it ought to be a DA that sets itself on a non-racial future, it focuses on an economy that is inclusive and deals with the question of justice,” he said.

Zille repeatedly remarked: “I will stay in my lane.”

In what could be seen as a swipe at Maimane and his insistence on his vision, Zille however pointed out that the DA was not an autocratic organisation and that its leaders were not autonomous beings who dictated the direction of the party.

“No leader in the DA gets up and decides what the values, the visions and the plans of the organisation are. If you read the first chapter of our constitution, all those things are very clear,” she said.

Unisa political expert Professor Somadoda Fikeni said Zille’s return was likely to set in motion Maimane’s isolation within the party.

“He might even be rendered insignificant even when he is still in power. Being the chair of the federal council which deals with the core administrative part, Zille may actually crisscross the country under the guise of trying to revive the DA’s administrative systems, only to campaign for the next leadership that will suit her,” Fikeni said.