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.
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”.
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 seed of the DA’s recovery has been planted by a white man in the Western Cape.’ Alan Winde should be the new leader of the DA. Stand with the IRR at #JoinTheIRR or SMS your name to 32823 (SMSes cost R1, Ts and Cs apply) https://t.co/SnRaRnLg6f
— IRR (@IRR_SouthAfrica) October 1, 2019
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.
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.