Helen Zille defends IRR column calling for Alan Winde to replace Mmusi Maimane

Former DA leader Helen Zille.
Former DA leader Helen Zille.

Former DA leader Helen Zille has defended a controversial opinion column calling for Western Cape premier Alan Winde to replace party leader Mmusi Maimane at the helm of the country's official opposition.

However, she was quick to explain that she would have framed that call differently because, as it is, it could lead to the article being read out of context.

This after a political storm erupted after Institute of Race Relations (IRR) analyst Hermann Pretorius wrote an article in which he called on Maimane to step down and be replaced by Winde.

In his column, published on Tuesday, Pretorius referenced race, stating that “the seed of the DA’s recovery has been planted by a white man in the Western Cape”.

“If the party has any bottle, any mettle, any fight left at all, it will see in the leadership of Alan Winde its future as the real party for all South Africans,” he wrote.

Quizzed about this on Wednesday, Zille said: “The point he [Pretorius] was making, I think, is a valid one. The underlying point he was making, with which I agree, is that the DA cannot be a race-driven party.”

Zille said the DA had to be a party that said, “we need to put people into positions who have really got all the attributes that can meet the requirements of that position”.

She said if the DA tried to run a race based on race with the ANC and the EFF, it would never win.

“It will always lose. Our job is not to try and compete in racially outbidding the ANC and the EFF. Our position should be precisely the opposite.

“It should say we are a non-racial party and live non-racialism in every single way, and I agree with that point. And we need to put other considerations above race, into the decisions that we take,” added Zille, who is now a senior policy fellow at the IRR.

In his piece, Pretorius, a junior analyst at the IRR, called out the DA for its “racial confusion”. He warned that by playing the racial game, a non-racial party could only lose.

“The leadership vacuum at the top of the DA and the racial confusion that has seen its once bright prospects tarnish, can be addressed in one brave, respectable swoop: by electing Alan Winde as the next leader of the party as soon as possible.

“The white, steady, reliable, white-haired male premier of the Western Cape could, in these uncertain and desperate times, provide that jolt of clarity of purpose for a flailing party,” he said.

He added that Winde becoming the next leader of a DA, united behind a new, unashamedly non-racial purpose, would reintroduce to SA politics the notion that the colour of your skin was irrelevant to whether you could serve your country.

In an interview with TimesLIVE, Zille said: “Where I think he is likely to be misunderstood, is his very provocative point that says, 'if you don't want to go and be part of racial predetermination or demography is destiny, then you should choose Alan Winde because he is a white man, to show the world that race is not your constraining factor'.

“That is obviously going to be taken out of context. It's going to be said, 'oh you want a white man in that position', which is not true at all. It is saying that would send a message to the world that race isn't important to us.”

She framed the point by saying: “In choosing anybody for any position, we must go on the requirements of the position, and not the race of the person.”

She was mum, however, when asked if she thought Maimane still met the requirements to lead the DA. Zille supported Maimane's election to succeed her in 2015.

“I strongly supported Mmusi to succeed me. I felt that it was time for me to step down and I thought Mmusi was the right successor. Now I have stepped out of the ring entirely and I am only an ordinary member of the DA.

“In fact, I was recently elected the branch chair of the Blouberg branch. But in that capacity, I have no say anywhere else in the party, so I will leave it to the delegates to the federal council to make that decision, and to the federal congress, whenever that is held,” she said.

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