Mmusi Maimane has Zille's back

Johannesburg - Aspiring DA caucus leader Mmusi Maimane has defended party leader Helen Zille's intervention in the parliamentary caucus, saying that "as a senior politician she has a very legitimate and very strong role", City Press reports.

Maimane was sworn in as an MP with his fellow party leaders this week. He is the most popular choice as the party's parliamentary leader - more than half of the DA's MPs polled by City Press' sister paper, Rapport, said they would vote for him.

Yesterday it was still unclear if Maimane would face competition from fellow MP Makashule Gana, who is still undecided about whether he will stand for the position of DA leader in Parliament.

Gana promised to decide by today whether he would stand. Nominations for the position close tomorrow.

Maimane told City Press in an interview this week that he had met former DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko earlier this month to talk "about what she found difficult about the job".

This included the challenges she had with Zille’s management of the caucus from outside Parliament, which DA insiders have said caused strain.

However, Maimane said that after the conversation: "I’ve arrived at a point where I say she managed it this way and I can manage it that way - if I get elected."

He said some people's views were that Zille should not have a role in Parliament.

"I'm of the simple view that Helen is experienced as a politician. There is no question about the fact that she's not going to be there forever, so the question to ask is with the time that she has, how does she transfer that knowledge?

"She has gone through government. She’s been mayor and now the premier [of the Western Cape]."

He said he was not anxious about his relationship with Zille.

"I think my worry is making sure that we represent South Africans well. Being able to take a platform such as Parliament can be rewarding and punishing at the same time. You put a foot wrong in Parliament and it is a very punishing move."

Zille has indicated that she will not publicly declare her support for one candidate or the other, but Maimane said he would lobby for her vote like he would any other member of the caucus.

As the party leader, Zille is a member of the DA caucus and has a vote.

Maimane said he was not aware of Zille's plans to possibly return to Parliament. She told the Mail & Guardian this week that she would return in a year’s time once an assessment was done and if the need arose.

"The option to go back to Parliament would only be available to her after a year," he said.

Maimane said the fact that Zille was elected premier of the Western Cape by the people of that province would have to be considered when making such a decision.

Rapport polled 73 out of the 103 members of the DA caucus - which comprises members from the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces - who will be voting for a new leader on Thursday.

Thirty-nine members said they planned to vote for Maimane. Two said they would vote for Gana, while 11 were unsure. Twenty-one did not want to say who they would be voting for. – Additional reporting by Maryna Lamprecht, Alicestine October and Janet Heard
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