Race could dash DA's prospects

Helen Zille.
Helen Zille.

The return of former Western Cape premier Helen Zille to active politics should, ordinarily, be something that is welcomed by all.

She's without doubt one of the country's most talented politicians. Although we do not often agree with her world view, Zille is a visionary leader.

In a country where the quality of political leadership has declined so much that rhetoric has replaced genuine debate on policy alternatives, personal insults have become a substitute for robust arguments in the National Assembly.

Populism from all sides is threatening to replace rational thought. That's why experienced politicians like Zille are still needed.

But the former DA leader, credited for growing the historically white-dominated organisation among black constituencies, is returning under the circumstances that may, depending on how the whole matter is handled, racially polarise and ultimately destroy the country's largest opposition party.

Zille on Friday availed herself for election to the DA's Federal Chair, a powerful position that became vacant in the party following James Selfe's decision to step down.

If she is elected to the post, she would effectively be responsible for the day-to-day running of the DA and its structures and, potentially, be second only to party leader Mmusi Maimane in terms of authority.

Given her recent political differences with Maimane, her protege and successor in the party leadership post, and the fact that her comeback is seen as part of the DA's old-guard "to reclaim" the party, her election would not augur well for Maimane and his backers.

Although the DA lost votes in the most recent general election, partly because some of its white voters chose the Freedom Front + and some of its black middle-class voters were enticed back to the ANC by the replacement of Jacob Zuma by President Cyril Ramaphosa, the party had made great strides under Maimane to sell itself as "a party for all" and not just whites.

However, the ongoing leadership race is threatening to undo all of that and, if Zille wins and Maimane is ultimately ousted, condemn the DA into a small party for minorities.

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