Helen Zille bows out as DA leader

BY CHARL BOSCH - APRIL 13, 2015

Democratic Alliance (DA) leader, Helen Zille, has announced that she won’t be standing for re-election at the party’s next elective congress in Port Elizabeth on May 9th.

Zille, who had been leading the party since taking over from Tony Leon in 2007, made the revelation at a surprise meeting of the party’s federal council at the OR Tambo International Airport’s City Lodge Hotel yesterday afternoon.

“This decision has, paradoxically, been a long time coming; but when the time was right, it was taken quickly, even suddenly. On Thursday last week (April 2nd), I took a firm decision that I would not stand for re-election as leader next month,” said Zille.

She stated that her decision was made in the best interest of the party, and that that it would be up to history to determine whether the move was right or wrong.

“From the start, I resolved that the outer limit of my term as party leader would be ten years, not because the party’s constitution prescribes this (there are no term limits) but because I believe every political party needs renewal and fresh blood after a decade, no matter how well the incumbent team has performed.

“[Hence] from the day I was elected, I knew that if I was re-elected at subsequent Congresses, the outside limit of my leadership term would be the 2017/8 Congress. While May 2015 may be slightly too early, the greater risk is that May 2017 may be slightly too late. And I would rather err on the side of being ahead of my time,” she said.

Zille added that while she believes the party could have continued its growth under her leadership, “I am convinced our prospects will be even better under a fresh team” as the country “is in a race against time to save our constitution”.

She also remarked that her decision will give a clearer indication as to who will take control of the party, and that the race to identify her successor would have caused distractions if she was to stand for re-election.

“The succession race would have begun the next day and been the focus of attention for two years till the next congress, sapping the energy we need to harness in order to win votes, so that we can govern South Africa in the best interests of all its people”.

Zille however added that she will finish her term as Western Cape Premier, which runs out in 2019, and only get involved with party matters when asked.

“As usual, with every difficult decision, there will be those who agree with it, and those who do not.  But as I know the party, we will all swing behind the team that is elected on May 9. We will also give advice and speak our minds in the appropriate forums.

“And whether we agree or not, we will support our new leader in the way that I have always felt supported, and for which I am deeply grateful”.

Although the party has not revealed the names of candidates expected to take over, Parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane is ranked favourite while rumours have also suggested Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille, Eastern Cape leader Athol Trollip and even former Parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko, who left the party last year to study at Harvard.

Chief Whip John Steenhuisen has meanwhile reportedly ruled himself out, telling News24 that he will support Maimane if he is elected.

Answering journalist’s question after her announcement, Zille said the party will continue to be the most diverse in South Africa, before rebuking a suggestion that she was forced to leave due to unhappiness with her style of leadership.

“I made the decision and can confidently say I was not pushed” she said, before denouncing another allegation that she was backing Maimane to be her successor.

“There is no cynical point anywhere. I have learned that backing someone causes division. I am not getting involved. You can take my word for that,” she said.