After a report in Business Day on Monday suggested former DA leader Helen Zille may have acted too hastily in throwing her name into the hat to return to power in the party as its federal council chairperson, the DA has dismissed this in its entirety.
The DA’s presiding officer of federal council elections, Desiree Van Der Walt, said in a statement on Monday that reports stating that the party was seeking a legal opinion on the eligibility of Zille standing for the position of federal council chairperson were incorrect.
“We wish to dismiss this notion,” she said.
“As the presiding officer, I am satisfied that all those who have been nominated have been fully vetted and meet the criteria to stand as candidate of chairperson of federal council.
“In this light, we wish to remind all the candidates and their campaign teams of the rules of engagement, which preclude candidates from negative campaigning.”
She called on all four candidates, Athol Trollip, Thomas Walters, Mike Waters and Zille to campaign fairly.
Earlier, it was reported that the controversy that saw Zille face internal disciplinary action in the DA over her controversial tweets on the legacy of colonialism might have a bearing on her eligibility to run.
In 2017 she publicly agreed to vacate all positions of authority in the party and refrain from all party activities. She, however, subsequently engaged in a great deal of the latter, including campaigning for the party in this year’s elections.
Zille said in a televised interview on eNCA on Monday morning that she was “a member in good standing” and said she wasn’t taking reports of the party seeking legal advice on her prospects at all seriously. She maintained there was nothing stopping her from standing for any position in the DA.
In June 2017 she “apologised unreservedly” for her tweets, though subsequently returned to earnestly defending her views.
It was not made clear to the public in 2017 whether there was a time limit on how long Zille was meant to avoid being in any positions of authority, and senior DA members are reportedly seeking legal counsel on her eligibility to now stand for the chairperson job.
In 2017, she had briefly been placed on suspension for allegedly bringing the DA into disrepute after tweeting, among other things: “For those claiming legacy of colonialism was ONLY negative‚ think of our independent judiciary‚ transport infrastructure‚ piped water.”
DA leader Mmusi Maimane announced at a joint media briefing that Zille had agreed it would be in the best interests of the party for her to vacate her positions on all decision-making structures in the DA, which included her position on the federal executive, federal council and Western Cape provincial council.
Relations between the two have subsequently been strained, which Maimane himself has admitted to.
Zille told Business Day on Sunday that she had not looked at the 2017/18 agreement with the DA “in quite some time”. The paper reported that she and the DA only reached a final settlement agreement in January 2018.
The federal council chair position is likened in the DA to the role of a CEO in a company or secretary-general in other parties, and the most recent incumbent was James Selfe.
Maimane is also currently facing pressure from his critics in the party, who want him to step aside.
The party’s organisational review panel is expected to soon table a report on how the DA lost some voter support, and recommend the direction the party should take in future.
The panel includes political strategist Ryan Coetzee, former party leader Tony Leon and Capitec Bank founder Michiel le Roux, and is expected to table the report before the party’s federal council on October 19.
It’s widely expected they will call for an early elective congress.
Zille has argued that the DA is ailing in part because of those who wanted to bring racial politics into it. She stressed that the party should “never try to mobilise members and supporters on a racial-nationalist ticket”.
“Traditionally the party sought to move away from race-based policies. Some people in the party appear to believe we should now define ourselves in racial terms.”
She said she was running because she believed the DA was in trouble and needed stability.
“I have the skills required for the position, and I think I can play a stabilising role in the DA, which is what it needs.”
(Background reporting, Simnikiwe Hlatshaneni).