Has Helen Zille reached her sell-by date?

Helen Zille may have grown the official opposition party, but it’s time for her to go, say some members.

There is a growing call within the party for the leader of the Democratic Alliance to step down and allow the party to grow, reports the Mail & Guardian today.

“Helen has been good to the DA. She took us to two general elections, but we need new blood now. You can’t lead a party for more than two general elections. You don’t want people to start saying she’s a lifetime president. Leading a party into two general elections is more than enough,” the party’s deputy federal chairperson Makashule Gana was quoted as saying.

Zille’s critics inside and outside the party have said the leaders is increasingly a liability. She has had several public spats on Twitter which has alienated some, while her grip on the party has tightened and few have dared to challenge her.

One DA official said there was an atmosphere of fear in the organisation. “Most do not want to challenge the leader because they want to keep their jobs and they know what happened to those who fell out with the leader, like Lindiwe Mazibuko,” the M&G reported.

Meanwhile, the honeymoon seems to be over for Zille and her once close ally Mmusi Maimane – the party’s leader in parliament – according to the report. Zille appeared to side with Maimane over former parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko, but has fallen out with him over the party’s direction in parliament where newcomers, the Economic Freedom Fighters, have been overshadowing the DA.

But the question is who could lead the party? Gana believes Zille should be elected at the party’s elective conference in May this year, but should step down in 2018 ahead of the country’s next national elections. But a small lobby within the party is reportedly pushing for a candidate to challenge the leader at the May conference.

Maimane, a first-time parliamentarian, was criticised as too inexperienced to lead the party’s caucus and will face the same criticism should he run for the top job. His predecessor, Mazibuko, is expected to return from Harvard University later this year but may not be in time for the elective conference, nor has she indicated that she is interested in the top job after the drama that surrounded her departure.

Zille told the M&G she was running for a third term because she believed she had a lot to contribute in “consolidating and further growing the party”. But she welcomed a contest. “[That’s] what a democratic process is all about.”

She responded on Twitter after the story's publication saying there was nothing wrong with the report, and that she would be comfortable stepping down when her time in the DA came to an end. "I'm quite relaxed about it. When I'm no longer leader I'll continue working hard for democracy in SA," she tweeted.

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