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Zille vows to 'stay in my lane' after winning vote for top DA job

Helen Zille on Sunday won a key vote for the position of DA federal council chair.
Helen Zille on Sunday won a key vote for the position of DA federal council chair.

The DA's newly elected federal council chair Helen Zille has pledged not to interfere with how party leader Mmusi Maimane leads the organisation.

“I will stay in my lane,” Zille said on Sunday, just hours after she won the vote for the key, powerful, party position.

Zille made the undertaking at a media briefing on Sunday. Her victory will put her in charge of the party’s administrations and systems management.

She defeated former Nelson Mandela Bay mayor Athol Trollip, and MPs Mike Waters and Thomas Walters in a hotly contested election on Sunday. She replaces James Selfe, who announced in June that he would be stepping down.

DA federal council elections presiding officer Desiree van der Walt declined to release the vote count, but said the margin between Trollip and Zille was narrow.

The former Western Cape premier’s dramatic return to the high echelons of the DA has been interpreted by party insiders as a blow to Maimane, who has been under pressure to resign after a poor showing in this year's general election.

Zille and Maimane sat next to each as they addressed the media conference.

The DA, which held its federal council meeting at the weekend, has also resolved to hold an early national congress next year to elect new leaders. This after it adopted a recommendation from a review panel report put together by former strategist Ryan Coetzee and former party leader Tony Leon.

But their recommendation that Maimane should immediately step down was roundly rejected by the majority of the 155 delegates who attended the two-day federal council meeting, held in Johannesburg.

Maimane said he would decide at a later stage whether he would make himself available for re-election when the federal congress is convened next year.

Zille emphasised that her new role in the DA was to support the party leader by running the administration and operations of the party while he determined the party’s political direction and values.

Zille has been linked to a DA grouping which is opposed to Maimane’s leadership. They argue that the DA has lost its liberalism under him.

But Zille said she would not be working for the interests of factions, but for those of the DA.

“I will stay in my lane. This a job that co-ordinates the different structures, functions, systems and processes. My job is to ensure that all of those things run smoothly.

“I will not be the leader. I will play a background role. I will stay in my lane. I will participate where it’s appropriate for me to do so. I respect and support the leader and [the entire] leadership.

“People are worried that I won’t stay in my lane. The problem is many people have only seen me in a leadership position. But I have very often played behind-the-scenes roles,” said Zille.

“But I can manage something and I can clean the toilets.”

Maimane said Zille would “bring new energy and vigour, and ultimately she will work with the leadership of the organisation”.

“The jobs in the DA are such that the leader provides the direction of the organisation, and the role of the federal council chair is one where she provides operational and structural leadership,” he said.

Zille admitted that her relationship with Maimane took strain recently but said that they were now ready to work closely together, as they had done previously.

“Mmusi and I have always had good relations. It has always been cordial. We’ve been through some strained times but we’ve really always been decent and professional,” she said.

After the election, one DA MP joked that it was the “return of the mommy”.

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