‘Zille’s departure paves the way for Maimane’

Mmusi Maimane is seen as the front runner following Helen Zille’s decision to step down as party leader.

FILE: Mmusi Maimane.

JOHANNESBURG - Former Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Tony Leon on Monday said Helen Zille's decision to step down as party leader has paved the way for Mmusi Maimane to take over the reins.

On Sunday, Zille made the unexpected announcement that she won't be standing for re-election at the party's elective conference next month.

Zille has been with the party for eight years and under her leadership, the DA won 22 percent of the national vote in last year's general election.

LISTEN: Helen Zille discusses her announcement to step down

Maimane who leads the party in Parliament is seen as the front runner, while two relative unknowns, Jack Swart and Neil Els, have already said they will be standing for the election.

LISTEN: DA Parliamentary Leader Mmusi Maimane's reaction to Zille's announcement

Leon said there was never a perfect time for a leader to step down.

"When do you go? And before the congress is probably a good time. The argument could be she could have given more notice, but I don't think timing of the leader's departure is ever a perfect time. I think the party must now decide where it's going; they haven't got much time to do that."

Meanwhile, as Maimane said he was still deciding whether to run for the position of party leader.

Two big party names have already said they're not going to contest leadership elections next month.

Lindiwe Mazibuko, the party's Eastern Cape leader Athol Trollip, and Chief Whip John Steenhuisen have all said they wouldn't stand for the position after Zille said she wasn't available for another term as DA leader.

Mazibuko tweeted from Harvard on Monday morning that she wished to clarify she would not be available for any leadership position in the DA at this year's congress.

Then, Trollip said he would not contest the leadership position but would continue to campaign for the post of federal chair.

"I will be there to support whoever is elected by our congress, and I pray that we will select somebody who will embody and personify non-racialism."

Political Analyst Sipho Seepe said the party leader's race mattered.

"If you have been a beneficiary of white privilege, you may be blind to those issues. And some of those issues you need people who have empathy."

At the same time, Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille said she was focused on becoming the leader of the DA in the Western Cape, not leading the party nationally.

De Lille told Cape Talk's John Maytham that she wasn't focused on national leadership at the moment.

"There is only one position I'm focused on in the Western Cape, and all my energy and thought is going into it; anything else I have not applied my mind."

Candidates have twenty eight days to campaign as South Africa's largest opposition party will choose new leadership on the 9 May.