Helen Zille cannot be president for life – she must step down in 2018, says Democratic Alliance deputy federal chairperson Makashule Gana.
Gana, an MP, said this week others should be given a chance to lead the party beyond next year’s local government polls and into the general elections in 2019.
Zille has been DA leader since 2007 and has been credited with expanding the party’s electoral support and driving a phase of transformation that saw the rise of black leaders such as Gana, Mmusi Maimane and Lindiwe Mazibuko.
“Helen has been good to the DA. She took us to two general elections, but we need new blood now. You can’t lead a party for more than two general elections. You don’t want people to start saying she’s a lifetime president. Leading a party into two general elections is more than enough,” said 32-year-old Gana.
Although Gana believes Zille should still lead the party into the 2016 local government elections, a lobby group within the DA wants her out as sooner. The group is planning to field a candidate to challenge her during the party’s federal congress in May.
The Mail & Guardian reported in May last year on a possible play by Gana for Mazibuko’s vacated position in Parliament, which was eventually filled by Maimane.
Gana told the M&G this week he had been approached to stand for the position of federal chairperson, but preferred to remain as deputy.
The party has experienced an internal rebellion over the past few months, with some members questioning Zille’s autocratic leadership style.
Gana said he was aware of “a small group” within the party that was lobbying for a candidate to replace Zille during the party’s federal congress in May. “They [the lobby group] even approached [Gauteng leader] John Moodey to contest Zille. Their approach is that no leader within the DA must think they can’t be contested. But for me, I don’t think we should contest for the sake of contesting. But it is their democratic right [to field a candidate]. Even Helen will support that. Our constitution says any member has the right to vote for a leader of their choice. We don’t want a situation where people start to believe they are lifetime leaders,” said Gana.
The former DA youth leader said it was time party members began considering what kind of leader could increase the party’s support, adding: “I don’t think Helen wants to take us to the 2019 general elections.”
Although he refused to disclose his preferred candidate to replace Zille, sources in the DA said he was among those pushing for former DA parliamentary leader Mazibuko, who is due to return from Harvard University in August.
Although a number of DA leaders threw their weight behind Zille’s re-election as party leader this week, current DA parliamentary leader Maimane, who until recently has been regarded as Zille’s close ally, would not yet give her his full backing. When asked whether he would support her re-election, Maimane said he first needed to look at what all candidates for the top position offered before deciding who to support.
Zille’s relationship with Maimane is said to have deteriorated, but she did not want this exposed because it would create the impression that she could not work with her colleagues, some of whom are black and had been hand-picked for their positions.
However, a source in the DA said she was so upset with the party’s six-month parliamentary performance under Maimane, following the ANC-Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF)standoff over President Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla home that Zille had reversed some of Maimane’s decisions.
These include Maimane siding with Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa in his failed attempt to convince opposition parties to restore order in Parliament late last year. At the time Maimane told the DA caucus that Ramaphosa was on their side. Zille, however, reminded him that Ramaphosa represented the executive and could not be treated like a legislative head even though he was leader of government business in Parliament.
A DA official, who preferred to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, said the party’s caucus was “very unhappy”.
“We are outplayed by the EFF and we are trying to compete with a party without principles. And some have reminded Zille that ‘we told you that this chap [Maimane] is not ready for this job’. She is frustrated with [Maimane] but is afraid to vindicate her opponents. She has already said she would consider returning to Parliament. But will she leave all these privileges of being a premier?” asked the official.
He said another lobby group in the Western Cape wants Zille to lead the party in Parliament to get rid of Maimane but also “to leave the Western Cape government to the party’s provincial leadership”.
He said there was an atmosphere of fear in the organisation. “Most do not want to challenge the leader because they want to keep their jobs and they know what happened to those who fell out with the leader, like Lindiwe Mazibuko.”
The official said an internal lobby group was hoping the DA congress could be held in November, three months after Mazibuko gets back.
“But we were shocked when the congress was scheduled for May. We were hoping to lobby her to challenge Zille. She [Zille] now acts as if there are no other capable people to lead the party. She won’t hesitate to get another novice who knows nothing about the DA to lead it – as long as he or she is black and loyal to her, like she did with Mmusi and Mamphela [Ramphele]”
Ramphele and Zille struck a deal just before the elections last year for the former leader of Agang to run as the DA’s presidential candidate. The deal soon fell apart.
Maimane this week denied having a strained relationship with Zille but admitted to differences in their decisions.
“At the end of the day, I do my work and Helen does what she needs to do,” he said.
Maimane said he had to “live with the decisions” he made as the head of the DA in Parliament.
Zille said she was running for a third term because she believed she had a lot to contribute in “consolidating and further growing the party”.
But she welcomed a contest. “[That’s] what a democratic process is all about.”
Zille said the debate about whether she should return to Parliament or remain premier was an old one. “It started when I stood for leader while I was mayor of Cape Town.”
Insiders say Athol Trollip and Mike Moriarty from Gauteng are possible contenders for this position.
Many provincial leaders believe Zille is the only candidate who can lead the party into the 2016 local government elections. Even some in conflict with her have resolved to put aside their differences in an effort to secure more gains in local government. The DA has set its sights on winning the country’s metros and is expected to pull out all stops during its election campaign.
The DA in Gauteng, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State are said to be behind Zille.
Moodey said Zille has taken the party to new heights and has the charisma to win over the electorate, especially during the 2016 local government elections.
“There is a very important local government election coming and we need a leader who can keep the party together. Helen Zille has a track record.”