Helen ZIlle. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER
Helen ZIlle. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER

Helen Zille has been elected as the DA’s federal council chair, which is arguably the most powerful position in the party. 

Her return to the top leadership of the party came more than three years after she stepped down as leader of the DA, after which Mmusi Maimane was elected as leader. He is serving his second term. 

Zille was elected on Sunday morning during a meeting of the DA’s federal council which took place on Saturday and Sunday in Johannesburg. 

The former incumbent, James Selfe, stepped down from the position on Saturday, after announcing his resignation shortly after the general elections in May.

The meeting also received the report back from a review panel which was commissioned in the wake of the 2019 general elections in which the DA lost support for the first time. 

It is understood that most speakers at the meeting on Saturday supported the party going to an early congress.

Zille’s candidature came out of left field when she announced her intention to stand for the position earlier in October after she was approached by party members. She beat Athol Trollip, Mike Waters and Thomas Walters, all senior party members, for the position. 

Party spokesman Solly Malatsi tweeted on Sunday just after midday that “the new Federal Council chair is Helen Zille”.

Zille was expected to address a media briefing on Sunday.

Zille emphasised at a media briefing on Sunday following her election that she would stay in her lane.

“I will not be the leader. I will play a background role and stay in my lane,” Zille said, adding that she would ensure that to the best of her abilities, the party’s structures and systems worked. The firebrand leader said she respected and supported “the leader and the leadership” and would do her best to ensure that the DA was taken to the “next peak”.  

The meeting also decided that it would hold a federal congress in 2020, a year before the 2021 local government elections. But before the early congress, which was a recommendation by the review panel, the party would hold its first-ever policy conference. The DA did not provide a date.