UPDATE | Helen Zille suspends IRR fellowship as she vies for powerful DA Federal Council chairperson post

Helen Zille (Malherbe Nienaber/Netwerk24)
Helen Zille (Malherbe Nienaber/Netwerk24)

Former DA leader and Western Cape premier Helen Zille has suspended her fellowship with the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) following her decision to join the contest for the position of chair of the party's federal council.

The IRR said in a statement on Friday that Zille had voluntarily suspended her position as a senior policy fellow "in accordance with the IRR's employment rules".

"I wish you well at this critical juncture in the evolution of our country," its CEO Dr Frans Cronje said.

She joined the IRR in July as a senior policy fellow, writer and analyst.

Moments earlier on Friday, she shared the news on her social media accounts, she said she had submitted nomination forms after "careful consideration and consultation", and being approached by senior leaders in the week. 

Federal council elections will be held later this month to replace James Selfe, who is standing down after holding the position for two decades.

Zille will be competing with Athol Trollip, Thomas Walters and Mike Waters for the position.

Party leader Mmusi Maimane announced in June that Selfe would head up the party's governance unit and was tasked with supporting DA governments to ensure they delivered better to citizens.

"In recent months, the DA has been through a period of turmoil and distress. As a party, it is important for us to reflect, to introspect and to begin the process of reconnecting with voters," Zille said.

"If elected as Chairperson of the Federal Council, my objective will be to support the leadership in its goal of stabilising the party and getting it back on track."

She said she loved the DA and the values it represented.

"South Africa cannot succeed unless the DA succeeds. I am prepared to work hard and to play my part in saving our democracy."

Zille, who led the DA between 2007 and 2015, said upon joining the IRR that she hoped to "continue the battle of ideas outside of direct party politics and as such, I will be writing and speaking about liberal ideas and solutions to South Africa's problems".

On Thursday, she defended the right of one of the institution's members, Hermann Pretorius, to pen an opinion piece calling for Maimane to resign as leader of the opposition.

'DA cannot be a race-driven party'

The piece has caused a furore in the party after the IRR quoted the opinion piece in a tweet: "The seed of the DA's recovery has been planted by a white man in the Western Cape. Alan Winde should be the new leader of the DA. Stand with the IRR..."

Speaking to SAfm on Wednesday, Zille said the words were taken out of context.

"The bottom line of his (Pretorius') argument was not that he (Winde) needs to be a leader because he is a white male, although, taken out context, that sentence could be made to read like that... but if you read it in context, what he is saying is the DA has to get away from race. That is the ANC and EFF's paradigm."

"The point he (Pretorius) was making was that the DA cannot be a race-driven party," Zille said in the interview.

"We (the DA) must stand for something completely different and leaders must be chosen based on capacity and merit.

"Mmusi is the leader of the DA, but that does not prevent people from discussing leadership in the party and I am not going to condemn Pretorius for exercising his freedom of speech," she continued.

Maimane has featured prominently in recent reports that detail scandals over his rented home and a donated car he was using in the Western Cape.

The DA leader, in a wide-ranging sit-down interview, reiterated to News24 that leaks and allegations of wrongdoing levelled against him were nothing more than a smear campaign from some within the party's ranks who do not agree over the direction it should be taking.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Rand - Dollar
Rand - Pound
Rand - Euro
Rand - Aus dollar
Rand - Yen
Brent Crude
Top 40
All Share
Resource 10
Industrial 25
Financial 15
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.