Free Stater Sandra Botha, a former caucus chairperson of the opposition DA, has narrowly won the race for leader of the official opposition by 31 votes to 25 over former National Party (NP) minister Tertius Delport.
She is the first woman to hold the post of leader of the opposition in South Africa. Past holders of the post have included Jan Smuts, Sir De Villiers Graaf and Dr Fredrick van Zyl Slabbert.
Botha was known to have been approached by new Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille to fill the shoes of Tony Leon, who was both party leader and parliamentary leader. Ironically, Zille, who is not a member of Parliament, as she wishes to retain the post of mayor of Cape Town, was brought to power by Delport.
But insiders in the party say that Delport — who is understood to have constructed an internal crisis by suggesting late last year that Zille would make a more effective leader of the party than Leon and to have leaked an internal document to a national magazine to this effect — would not have made a suitable candidate, having been seen to be on the conservative side of the former NP.
Zille ordered a Markinor survey, costing the party hundreds of thousands of rands, which canvassed the opinion of over 1 000 party supporters as to who would make the best parliamentary leader. Ironically, this survey showed that Botha and Delport were only slightly better known than other DA members of Parliament who were randomly included in the list of possible candidates for the post. Ultimately, Zille said, the results were not ‘statisticallyâ€ meaningful and did not favour one over the other.
Delport, who Zille had wanted to reward for his support for her, did not garner a position.
Botha, who is married to former Free State leader and now fellow National Assembly member Andries Botha, told a media conference last week that her role would be different from the role played by Leon and that she would work well with Zille while taking direction from the parliamentary caucus as well.
Meanwhile, the caucus also backed the liberal Ian Davidson, former Gauteng leader and former chairperson of the management committee of the Johannesburg city council, as chief whip. He was unopposed after fellow liberal Mike Ellis withdrew from the contest. Davidson is a key ally of Zille, having played a big role in delivering the Gauteng vote for her at the recent DA conference.
Former NP minister of agriculture Kraai van Niekerk was re-elected as caucus chairperson and Janet Semple and James Masango were elected deputy caucus chairpersons. Former NP speaker in the Western Cape legislature Willem Doman, former NP MP Donald Lee and North West MP Paul Swart were elected national assembly whips.
Zille said this week, that she was ‘delighted by the outcomeâ€. One party insider called it a balance between liberals and nationalists. It was also representative of the party’s multi-racial constituency, the insider argued.