Helen Zille: If the DA dies, South Africa’s democracy dies

Why has Helen Zille returned to politics? The former DA leader explains her return and addresses allegations that she's against diversity in the party.

FILE: Former Western Cape Premier Helen Zille. Picture: AFP.

CAPE TOWN – Former Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille wants to restore stability and unity within the party if she is named as the new Federal Council chairperson.

The former DA leader resigned from politics but made a surprise announcement last week after submitting her name to become the party’s Federal Council chairperson. Zille’s announcement came after James Selfe stepped down.

During an interview with 702’s Bongani Bingwa on Monday, Zille said she was reluctant to return to politics.

“I was very keen on retiring as I’m living my best life, seeing my grandchildren and sleeping seven hours a night. I’ve been getting my media work back on track. I had great reservations, but after speaking to several people and looking at the turmoil the party’s been through, I thought I’d give it one last try through the position of Federal Council chair to bring unity and stability.”

Some have questioned whether Zille would be eligible for nomination as she had reached an agreement with the party to step down from all structures.

Zille said her agreement with the party was made in May 2017, not 2018 as previously reported. She said the agreement did not prevent her from applying for positions within the DA.

“If you look at that agreement, it says nothing about standing for positions. It says absolutely nothing. This is something I am committed to doing, the DA means an enormous amount to me. I spent my whole adult life building it up. But I am irrelevant in this thing. If the DA dies, South Africa’s democracy dies. This is why we need to get it onto a growing course again.”


Zille’s return comes as current DA leader Mmusi Maimane's leadership is under the spotlight.

Maimane was accused of wrongdoing regarding accommodation and travel arrangements. However, the party’s finance committee cleared him of wrongdoing last week.

Maimane’s lifestyle came under the spotlight after he was accused of driving a vehicle gifted by disgraced businessman Markus Jooste. The rental vehicle was paid for by Steinhoff.

Jooste is accused of insider trading, cooking financial books and dodging taxes, all of which caused the company’s share price to crash.

WATCH: Maimane: I never demanded the use of Steinhoff donor vehicle

Maimane said the allegations against him formed part of an attack by party members who were against diversity.

When asked about the issues surrounding Maimane, Zille first addressed the party’s performance at the polls this year. The DA lost five seats in the National Assembly after this year’s polls.

The DA asked former leader Tony Leon to compile a report on Maimane’s leadership and the DA’s poor election results.

Zille said she would wait for a report from a committee set up by Maimane to review the party’s work during elections.

“I don’t want to second guess them. I will wait for their report and their diagnosis to see if we can fix this.”

Zille also denied allegations that she was against diversity in the DA.

“No one did more to diversify the party than I did.”

She said her relationship with Maimane had always been cordial and professional.

“It used to be very close. I would say it isn’t as close as it once was, but it’s professional.”

Zille is up against Athol Trollip, Mike Waters and Thomas Walters for the federal chairperson position.


On Monday, Zille was also asked about her tweets on colonialism which sparked debate.

She told 702 that her comments were taken out of context and that people had “put words in her mouth”.

Last year, Zille was criticised after she asked a Twitter user whether he believed that the history of colonialism was only negative. It was not the first time that she came under fire for her comments on colonialism.

In 2017, she faced disciplinary action for her comments on colonialism. She tweeted that not all aspects of colonialism were negative. She later apologised for the offence caused by her controversial tweets.