Zille's announcement met with shock, surprise

By Drum Digital
13 April 2015

Many of the Democratic Alliance's federal executive members heard the news that party leader Helen Zille was bowing out for the first time on Sunday morning.

DA parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane, who many have speculated will take Zille's place as head of the party, said he heard the news at the urgent meeting the executive was summoned to in Johannesburg.

Maimane would not comment on whether he would stand for the position.

"As you know I'm very committed to my role as Parliamentary leader. I love the job. I think that any discussion... is something I will have to think deeply about. I will also have to consult with my family, with the party etc."

Maimane said he did not want to take away from Zille's announcement by making any pronouncements on his own future.

Zille said that after almost eight years at the helm of the DA she would not stand for re-election at the party's federal congress in Port Elizabeth on May 9.

Zille was elected DA leader on May 6, 2007. She would however complete her second term as Western Cape premier, which ends in mid-2019. She was elected to this post in May 2014.

Maimane said this was a "massive announcement" for the DA, which he needed to take in still. He described Zille as his hero and praised her for her contribution to the country.

'Timing a surprise'

DA federal council chairperson James Selfe said he knew about Zille's decision before Sunday.

"I was one of the people that Helen consulted ahead of the time. I was shocked when I first heard."

Selfe said he did not have a new candidate for the position of leader at present.

"I'm sure people will come to the fore... [and] I will wait till that announcement is made."

Selfe said under Zille’s leadership the party became the most diverse political party in the country.

Wilmot James, DA federal chairperson, said of Zille’s decision: "She had clearly given it a lot thought. The timing was a bit of surprise but the fact that she was thinking about it doesn't come as a surprise."

James said Zille had been speaking about bringing in a new leader for a long time.

'Big shoes to fill'

James said he had never thought about standing as DA leader, and would also not say if he would throw his support behind anyone.

"We'll have to see what comes out in the wash. Clearly there's some big shoes to fill and leading a political party is not an easy job," James said.

Earlier this year, James announced he would not be standing again for federal chairperson.

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