Zille’s tweets threaten her position as DA federal chairperson

Former Western Cape premier Helen Zille faces not only an internal disciplinary hearing over her latest Twitter outburst, but will also face a challenge as federal chairperson of the Democratic Alliance (DA) at its upcoming elective federal council meeting.

The party’s Gauteng chairperson, Mike Moriarty, confirmed this week that he would contest the position of federal chairperson — which oversees the running of the party machinery —  when the party holds its elective federal congress meeting later this year.

Zille was elected to the post, arguably the most powerful in the party, last October on the back of a review of its 2019 election performance which saw then leader Mmusi Maimane resign from the party. 

John Steenhuisen, who was elected interim leader of the party last November, is also set to face a two-way challenge from Gauteng provincial leader John Moodey and KwaZulu-Natal MPL Mbali Ntuli for the permanent role.

The congress, which had been set for May, was postponed until October because of the Covid-19 outbreak. Zille has proposed that the congress, which usually involves about 2000 delegates from party structures, be held online. The party’s federal council will decide on the proposals for holding the congress when it meets later this month.

Moriarty, who has been a member of the DA for 31 years, confirmed that he would challenge Zille for the post, but declined to comment further.

In a letter sent to DA members last week, however, Moriarty said that he would stand as federal chairperson because the party needed somebody who would “bring stability, not controversy” and who could lead a federal council that would “edify the entire organisation”.

In the letter, Moriarty said he was the best candidate for the post, based on his track record in party structures, and would aim to unify the party, ensure accountability and co-ordinate its structures in a strategic way.

Moriarty said he believed in the vision of the DA becoming the “core of a realigned majority” by 2024 with “my heart and soul” and was committed to steering the party along this path.

The DA’s losses in the 2019 elections saw it take 20.77% of the vote, a drop from 22.2% in 2014. It also lost ground in Gauteng, where it made massive advances in the 2016 local government poll, with the Freedom Front Plus mainly benefiting from the exit of DA voters. It has continued to battle in by-elections since.

DA spokesperson Solly Malatsi said the federal executive had made a recommendation for an online congress to the federal council, which would make a recommendation at its regular meeting later in July.

Malatsi said that a federal council meeting this weekend would only be dealing with one issue, the rules of the party’s Federal Legal Commission (FLC).

Malatsi said the deputy chairperson of the FLC, Werner Horn, had been appointed to lead the investigation into the tweets by Zille. A number of senior DA members, including MP Hlanganani Gumbi, had laid complaints against Zille over the tweets, in which she claimed post-apartheid South Africa had more racist laws than the apartheid state.

Malatsi said there was no timeline laid out for the hearing of the complaints against Zille.

Gumbi confirmed that he had laid a complaint against Zille, but declined to comment further on the matter.

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Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper

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