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Zille, Trollip, Waters and Walters: Who's who in the DA's power race

Helen Zille, Athol Trollip, Mike Waters and Thomas Walters are all vying for the Democratic Alliance's federal council chair position. This is who they are and the experience they bring to the position.

Internal rifts in the DA is showing. Who will take the powerful position of federal executive chair? Picture: Sethembiso Zulu/EWN

JOHANNESBURG – The race for the second most powerful position in the Democratic Alliance (DA) is heating up. This weekend, party members will vote for whom they'd like to take up the all-powerful federal council chair.

The federal council is the party’s highest decision-making body and was led by James Selfe for nearly two decades, before he was redeployed as head of the party’s new governance unit.

Earlier this month, former party leader Helen Zille brought attention to the DA’s internal race when she made the shock announcement that she would run for the position amid growing speculation that her successor, Mmusi Maimane, had lost favour within his own party. Zille left the party and joined the Institute for Race Relations, a position the organisation said was on hold.

Recently, Maimane’s lifestyle came under the spotlight after he was accused of driving a vehicle that had been donated by disgraced Steinhoff businessperson Markus Jooste. However, he was later cleared by the party’s finance committee.

Internal rifts in the party began to show following its poor performance at the May 2019 polls, though at the time the DA dismissed any claims that Maimane’s future as leader was on the line. A report into why the official opposition lost so much support at the election was released to the party earlier this month. This report was done by former party leader Tony Leon, adding further to the speculation that Maimane would be fighting for his political life within the party.

Maimane took the blame for the obvious decline in the party’s support.

WHO IS IN THE RUNNING?

ATHOL TROLLIP

Former Nelson Mandela Bay Mayor Athol Trollip believes he’s in a better position to take the party forward and reverse the electoral losses.

Trollip and Zille are thought to be the two favourites for the position.

He said a week ago he had already done the work towards a win.

“I believe that I will win against Helen – I’ve been doing my canvassing and I know what’s happening with the responses I’ve been having – but I also believe that I represent the future in the party and that people will give me the nod on that basis."

Trollip served as a member of the provincial legislature (MPL) in the Eastern Cape (EC) in 1999 where he served two terms. He was elected to the National Assembly in 2009 until 2012 when he returned to the EC as MPL.

He became mayor in 2016 until he was ousted in a motion of no confidence in 2018. He is currently head of the federal congress in the party.

HELEN ZILLE

Former party chair and Western Cape Premier Helen Zille has suspended her activities as senior policy fellow at the Institute for Race Relations to pursue her ambitions of becoming federal council chair. On her return, Zille’s said she would use the position to restore stability and unity in the party even though some have questioned her eligibility – citing the 2017 agreement to step down from all party structures.

Zille’s decision to re-enter direct politics is arguably not coincidental, as it comes when her former protégé Maimane fights for his political life amid scandals involving a Steinhoff-sponsored car he used and a house he is accused of renting from a benefactor.

Maimane told EWN that this was an attack on his integrity by his colleagues who were against diversity in the party and who wanted to reclaim what he called "the old DA".

Questions are now being raised if Zille’s return is part of this project.

On Friday, she said she was coming back because she wanted to “get the party back on track”.

The question now is whether getting the party back on track includes getting rid of Maimane; and if she is appointed federal council chair, how is she going to work with the DA leader when she doesn’t seem to have confidence in him anymore, while he no longer regards her as a mentor.

Zille is not without her fair share of controversy, with her exit from politics being riddled with negative publicity.
Last year, Zille was criticised after she asked a Twitter user whether he believed that the history of colonialism was only negative. Though she says the tweet was taken out of context, it was not the first time that she came under fire for her comments on colonialism.

It was also under Zille that the party saw the short-lived merger with Mamphela Ramphele’s Agang-SA.

Zille’s had a strained relationship with her successor, though she’s described it as “cordial”.

She’s described her relationship with Maimane as “cordial” from being one of mentor and mentee.

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

She held the position of party leader from 2009 to 2015, Western Cape mayor between 2006 and 2009. Zille was premier from 2009 until 2019.

MIKE WATERS

Mike Waters is the DA’s deputy chief whip and has been with the party for over 30 years, starting as a youth leader in the Democratic Party.

In 1999, he was elected to Parliament where he held the position of spokesperson for several portfolios, and was appointed shadow minister.

He was re-elected as an MP in 2004, 2009 and again in 2014. Waters is also one of three deputies in the federal executive.

THOMAS WALTERS

Thomas Walters was party leader in Gauteng and served as MPL from 2009 to 2014.

He’s served as deputy federal council chair since 2012.

Additional reporting by Shimoney Regter and Clement Manyathela.

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