DA factfile: What you need to know about the week that was

2019-10-27 07:21
Helen Zille addressing the media after Mmusi Maimane and Athol Trollip resigned. (Chanté Schatz, News24)

Helen Zille addressing the media after Mmusi Maimane and Athol Trollip resigned. (Chanté Schatz, News24)

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It has been a week of high drama in the blue house. What the writers of House of Cards wouldn't give to be able to come up with political intrigue and plot twists like this. 

What happened?

On Sunday, former DA leader and premier of the Western Cape Helen Zille was elected chairperson of the party's federal council (FedCo). Among her backers were those who call themselves the classical liberals who were dissatisfied with Mmusi Maimane's leadership. Their critics say they will take the party back.

Maimane's preferred candidate, Athol Trollip, was defeated by Zille.

Then, on Monday, Herman Mashaba resigned as the mayor of Johannesburg, citing Zille's election as one of his reasons. He said he could not reconcile himself with people who believed race was irrelevant in discussions of poverty and inequality in the country.

Maimane was there and hailed Mashaba his hero. This rankled some DA members.

On Wednesday, Maimane quit as federal leader, followed by Trollip, who was the national chairperson. 

Remaining leaders spent most of Thursday dealing with the fallout.

READ: Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert, Mmusi Maimane and the crisis of liberalism

So, who leads the DA now?

The shortest, simplest answer is: no one.

After Maimane resigned as party leader on Wednesday and federal chairperson Trollip followed suit, the party was effectively without a leader because its constitution empowers the federal chairperson to take over the responsibilities of the federal leader.

But the constitution is silent on what happens when neither is available.

"In terms of the federal constitution, the federal leader is deputised by the federal chairperson, but the federal constitution is silent on the current situation where both positions have become vacant simultaneously," chairperson Zille explained in a statement on Thursday.

Does that mean that Zille is in charge now?

Not quite. While, as FedCo chair, she is the most senior national leader, the DA's constitution doesn't allow her any of the powers of the federal leader. She has to stay in the FedCo chair's lane.

When will a new leader be elected?

The party wants to have a federal congress to elect a national leader as soon as possible and April next year is the target.

And in the meantime? The federal council will meet on November 17 to elect an interim federal leader and interim federal chairperson.

On Wednesday, Maimane said he would still be an MP and parliamentary leader but on Thursday morning he resigned from those positions as well. What happened?

In the DA, its leader is automatically the leader of whichever caucus he or she belongs to. If the leader is not in the caucus, the caucus must elect its leader. Since Maimane resigned as leader, he ceased being the parliamentary leader, because he wasn't elected by the caucus. He was informed of this after he announced his resignation.

And why isn't John Steenhuisen the chief whip anymore?

The parliamentary leader appoints a chief whip, so the term of the chief whip is tied to that of the parliamentary leader. This means when Maimane stopped being parliamentary leader, Steenhuisen stopped being chief whip.

Who leads the DA's parliamentary caucus now?

When the Sixth Parliament started, Annelie Lotriet was elected by the DA caucus to be its caucus chairperson. She is now the interim parliamentary leader.

Similarly, Jacques Julius was elected deputy chief whip. He is now the acting chief whip.

OPINION | Mpumelelo Mkhabela: Did the DA just kill itself in the name of liberalism?

When will they have a parliamentary leader?

They want to elect a new parliamentary leader next week. This person can then appoint a chief whip.

Can Helen Zille become an MP and be elected its parliamentary leader?

No, she can't become an MP. She wasn't on the DA's lists for Parliament for the elections in May. The next person on the list will take the seat left vacant by Maimane. The list can only be changed after a year.

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