Zille announces intention to lead DA’s federal council

Former Western Cape Premier and Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille on Friday announced that she will be contesting the party’s position of federal executive (FedEx) chairperson left vacant after James Selfe’s resignation.

The FedEx chair steers the party’s most senior decision-making body and is seen as second only to the party leader in terms of its power and importance.

In June, Selfe announced he would be leaving the position after almost two decades to concentrate on heading the party’s governance unit.

It was thought the party needed more stability and coordination in the various municipalities, metros, and one province where it governs.

READ MORE: The DA would benefit from a little introspection

So far two other DA leaders, former Nelson Mandela Bay mayor Athol Trollip and MP Thomas Walters, were said to be in the running for the position.

They both told the Mail & Guardian that they would not comment until the nominations process is officially open.

But, in a surprise move, Zille announced her candidacy for the vacant position on her Facebook page, stating: “After careful consideration and consultation, I have submitted nomination forms to contest the position of chair of the DA’s federal council.”

Zille said she came to her decision after being approached by “various leaders throughout the week”.

The party confirmed Zille’s nomination, as well as the nomination of former DA deputy chief whip in Parliament, Mike Waters, bringing the list to four candidates.

“The DA trusts that this will be a constructive period of campaigning and contestation of ideas between the candidates in line with our values of freedom, fairness, opportunity and diversity,” said the party’s head of elections Desiree Van Der Walt.

Zille said she came to her decision after being approached by “various leaders throughout the week”.

Zille stepped down as party leader in 2015, handing the baton to current leader Mmusi Maimane.

Since then, she has had several run-ins with the party’s leadership over her use of social media to make controversial statements about race and the legacy of colonialism.

The announcement comes as Maimane faces challenges himself over whether he will remain as party leader after the DA’s 2021 elective conference.

This week, the Institute for Race Relations (IRR), the organisation which Zille worked for until Friday, published an opinion piece by Hermann Pretorius calling for Maimane to be replaced by Western Cape Premier Alan Winde.

The IRR has confirmed that Zille is no longer a senior policy fellow at the organisation.

It also follows two weeks of media reports suggesting Maimane misled Parliament about a house in which he and his family currently reside, and that he had used a car donated to the party from disgraced Steinhoff chief executive Marcus Jooste, despite concerns by other party members.

He has maintained his innocence.

In a statement on Friday, the DA announced it has cleared Maimane of any financial wrongdoing in relation to the home and the vehicle.

Two weeks ago, Rapport reported that Maimane was living in a house in Cape Town’s suburb of Claremont, which he had declared in Parliament’s register of members’ interests as his own.

Maimane clarified that the house was bought by his business partner and he was only renting it. He said that he didn’t know he did not have to declare a rented property.

Last week, Rapport reported that Maimane was being driven around in a vehicle donated by Jooste. He said the SUV was returned as soon as the party got wind of Jooste’s alleged malfeasance. He also said that his party has not let up in probing Steinhoff in parliamentary committees investigating what happened at the retail holding company.

The party’s federal finance chairperson Dion George said in the statement that Maimane had submitted himself for scrutiny after the media reports based on leaks from within the party.

On the house, George found that Maimane paid and an initial deposit of R450 000 of which R18 400 is deducted as rent per month.

“The current balance is R100 540,” George said in a statement.

“… Utility bill payments are made separately by Mr Maimane and in addition to the rental amount.”

George confirmed Maimane’s version that the home is owned by a business partner of his family’s trust.

While no formal lease document exists, the DA said it is satisfied the rental payments confirm a lease agreement and that the financial trail is evident of that.

On the car, George confirmed Maimane was driven in a Toyota Fortuner donated to the party by a Steinhof subsidiary, Hertz.

“After the Steinhoff scandal broke, the car was returned. There was a delay due in part to the leader’s international trip to the USA and a federal congress taking place in Gauteng,” George said.

The statement ends confirming there’s no evidence of financial illegality on Maimane’s part.

Zille’s announcement now adds more fuel to speculation that Maimane grip on power is slipping.

“In recent months, the DA has been through a period of turmoil and distress,” Zille’s statement reads.

“As a party, it is important for us to reflect, to introspect and to begin the process of reconnecting with voters. If elected as chairperson of the federal council, my objective will be to support the leadership in its goal of stabilising the party and getting it back on track,” she said.

In February, as she was preparing to leave the Western Cape Premier office, Zille told the M&G that she had no immediate plans of remaining in politics.

“I’m planning to take some time off to relax. That’s if I can. I don’t know if I know how to relax anymore… My whole life has been built on seeing what door opens next.”

Eight months later, Zille is back in the political arena.

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