Whither now, Helen?

2014-05-15 00:00

With the DA to elect its fourth parliamentary leader in seven years on May 29, Tony Leon, former DA leader and Dr Wilmot James, federal chair, are in favour for the party and parliamentary leader to be the same person. What is your comment on this?

This is the ideal, but it is not the only model. I have discussed the pros and cons of moving to Parliament with my colleagues here at provincial level yesterday and they feel very strongly that I must for now remain [as premier] to consolidate the [Western Cape] government and ensure we continue building forward on our current trajectory.

I can understand the argument and have a lot of sympathy for it, but at this stage I believe both the party and the [Western Cape] provincial government believe I must stay here and meet the voters’ mandate.

Why were the two roles separated?

I was the party leader when I was elected as mayor of Cape Town in 2007. I couldn’t then be in Parliament and be a mayor at the same time. Two years later the party decided that I must stand for the premier. I wanted Patricia de Lille to be the candidate for the premier, but she did not want to. I worked well with Sandra Botha and Athol Trollip [the former parliamentary leaders] so that was not a problem.

In view of the mistakes that crept in last year, when the parliamentary caucus voted in favour of the Employment Equity Amendment Bill and the uncertainty on whether the DA supports the re-opening of land claims, do you as party leader aim to exercise more control over the parliamentary caucus?

If there is good co-operation it works well, but there must be a feeling of working in one team.

What I do suggest is to rebuild that feeling of one team to avoid the problem of two power centres.

People are elected to do a specific job and I give them all the space to do it, but I expect that we all should still co-operate as one team — just like we co-operate in cabinet. We must be a cohesive team sharing the same vision. I am in caucus every week and meet the parliamentary caucus leader weekly for a meal and this has always worked well.

Well, it does not look like one team with one vision now?

Well it worked very well when we were all committed to work as part of one team.

What characteristics must a new parliamentary leader have?

I think the person must be a team builder, a strategic thinker, a good speaker and someone who is willing to build others.

The leader must also have a very grounded understanding of the values and principles of the DA.

It has been widely reported that DA spokesperson Mmusi Maimane has your support to become the new parliamentary leader. Some DA MPs has however described him as “over-ambitious” and pointed out he is too inexperienced to lead the parliamentary caucus. How would you react to this?

Mmusi Maimane is a very rare political talent. He is very charismatic and a brilliant public speaker and he possesses many of the other necessary skills.

He has an exceptionally good future ahead of him in politics, but he lacks experience at this stage. Nothing can really make up for that. If I had to advise him, it would be to first consolidate his experience.

You said in a radio interview you had offered the post of Gauteng premier to Lindiwe Mazibuko. Why this post for the parliamentary leader?

We wanted to win Gauteng and my goal was to use the person who would get the most votes. I wanted her to throw in her hat — it was in the first quarter of last year.

She said she would think about it and came back a few weeks later and said no. I wanted her to stand [for premier] because her name is widely known. Because she has good debating skills and other skills that I thought would attract a young, lively new generation. I was very keen for her to stand. It was only when she declined that the choice fell on Mmusi.

The agreement was that if she won the election in Gauteng, she would become the premier. If not, she would return as parliamentary leader.

Gareth van Onselen, a former DA head of policy, has sharply criticised your leadership and alleged no room exists for healthy differences of opinion between the DA leader and the party members because there is a single, dominant and authoritarian personality at the heart of the party. What is your reaction to this?

Everyone could see that Gareth van Onselen is very bitter. He used to manage the communications of the DA until it was decided this was not acceptable.

I did not give him the post that he wanted — he wanted to manage certain communication portfolios on a separate platform, a parallel communication operation inside the party, specific to Parliament.

He did not like it and has since then been conducting a vendetta. If there is a single single, dominant and authoritarian personality at the heart of the party, it is Gareth van Onselen.

I am amazed to read all this stuff. I will call for open meetings in all the caucuses, where I will put Zille’s leadership style on the table.

Will the DA consider white candidates?


What is the real reason behind Lindiwe Mazibuko resignation?

She would have lost the election in that caucus. She knew it and lots of people knew it. I am sure [studying at Harvard] was her Plan B.

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