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Team DA: Helen Zille on the warpath

Charles Molele

The DA's federal congress has shown Helen Zille has made small but solid gains in the party as she guns for Gauteng at the 2014 national elections.

Mmusi Maimane, Helen Zille, Wilmot James (front), with Mbali Ntuli, Makashale Gana and Anchen Dreyer at the back celebrating their win at the DA's federal congress in Johannesburg. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

The ruthlessly efficient party leader has made sure that the Democratic Alliance's elective congress in Boksburg at the weekend reflected the demographics of the country, and emerged with diverse leadership: Wilmot James was elected as federal chairperson, and party's national spokesperson Mmusi Maimane, youth leader Makashule Gana and Gauteng MP Anchen Dreyer as federal deputies.

But in a difficult political environment Zille, who was elected for another term unopposed, faces an uphill battle as she continues to build the DA into a majority party and set it on the path of realignment politics.

The next two years will undoubtedly test her well-crafted image as a politician who's more interested in substance than ambition.

Within her own party, Zille urgently needs to repair damage with those who lost the elections at the federal congress at the weekend, majority of whom believe she was a polarising figure and leading the party in the wrong direction.

These hard-bitten leaders include, among others, the party's outspoken spokesperson of home affairs Masizole Mnqasela, the vociferous spokesperson on police Dianne Kohler-Barnard and the party's deputy chief whip in Parliament Sandy Kalyan.

Mnqasela has since lodged a complaint with the party's electoral commission about the outcome of the elections at the weekend. He lost to James for the position of federal chairperson mainly due to his sharp disagreements with Zille in the past.

'Autocratic'
Although Zille emerged from the federal congress with her image largely intact, she is hardly a colossus. Many in the party have criticised her opposition to having a deputy president as evidence enough that she was single-minded and an "autocratic" leader who hates to be challenged.

Outside the party, Zille is set to contend with the ANC's relentlessly negative propaganda and rhetoric that her party was pro-business, anti-working class and largely represented white interests.

The stakes are high but Zille has vowed to confront the problems rather than kick them down the road. She said she remains confident that she would attract enough black supporters to win Gauteng in the next general elections, and possibly remove the ANC from power for the first time in 2019.

"I don't know about you, but I am leaving here today feeling even more inspired and energised about the DA and about what we can achieve between now and 2014," she told delegates during her closing address on Sunday.

"We now need to go back to our branches, to our towns and cities, with a laser-like focus on election campaign 2014. We need to get down to work to show each and every South African that we are in their corner, that they can trust us with their vote and with the future of our country. Today, as we end this congress, we begin our campaign for election [in] 2014. It is no coincidence that this congress is in Gauteng. Let us use the great momentum of this weekend, the energy and the commitment of our people, and let's go and work every day for a win in 2014."

She added: "Delegates, we came into the congress with momentum. Our party has never been stronger or more united. Just two weeks ago, we welcomed the former premier of the Eastern Cape, Nosimo Balindlela, into our party. You may not have met uMama Nosimo Balindlela here this weekend because she has fitted in so well – she attends this Congress this weekend for the first time as a paid up member of the DA. Can you imagine a former ANC premier being prepared to work at grassroots, building branches for the DA in remote rural areas? Thank you! You are welcome here! Also, just last week, we all woke up to discover that we had won the mayoralty in Tlokwe. What an amazing victory. Well done to the team in Potchefstroom, and to the new DA mayor there, Annette Combrink. No matter how long or short it lasts, we will use our time in office in Tlokwe to show voters that we can deliver stable, reliable and trustworthy government for all the people there.

Growing support
At the weekend, Zille told congress that the party has branches everywhere but has made inroads in black communities in Gauteng and that this will enable it to perform exceptionally well  come the 2014 elections.

"Just a couple of weeks ago we grew our support by 350% in a by-election in Hammanskraal, a ward where we never won many votes before. We have seen similar results, across our country, from Fordsburg to Phillippi, from Mbombela to Matatiele and in Seshego and in Soweto. Congratulations to our tireless activists who brought in so many votes."

Zille also countered accusations that her party represented white interests.

"The DA is not a party of racists. It is not a party of sexists, xenophobes or homophobes. It is not a party for people who think that life was better under apartheid. And it is not a white party. Or a black party. Or a brown party. Ngumbutho ka wonke wonke. It is a South African party, for all the people, united in the pursuit of a better life for everyone," said Zille.

The DA is currently leading an alliance of opposition parties that are calling for Zuma's removal. Two weeks ago, the party's parliamentary leader, Lindiwe Mazibuko, tabled a motion of no confidence in Zuma on behalf of her party and seven others.

The ANC and Parliament rejected the motion, with the ANC labelling it frivolous and a publicity stunt, and Parliament saying it could not put it on the programme because of a failure to reach a consensus in Parliament's programming committee. Mazibuko then approached the Western Cape High Court to ask it to compel Parliament to hold the debate on the motion they had tabled.

The DA has also won a number of court cases against Zuma over the past few months, including challenging the appointment of Menzi Simelane as the director of public prosecutions and filing for access to the record of decision, or documentary evidence, used to drop charges against Zuma in April in 2009.


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