Helen Zille

Image via Facebook: @HelenZille

DA leadership race: How wide is Helen Zille’s lane?

As the Zulu saying goes, there can only be one bull in a kraal.

Helen Zille

Image via Facebook: @HelenZille

It is hard to believe that only ten days have passed since the former DA leader’s political comeback last Sunday, when she was elected chairperson of her party’s federal executive, leading to the resignation of party leader Mmusi Maimane, DA national chairman Athol Trollip and Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba.

On that fateful Sunday Zille promised to “stay in my lane”, but four days later she was thrust into the position of acting party leader, widening that lane somewhat and causing some speculation in political circles about just what the extent of that lane is, now and in future.

More resignations dwindle DA numbers

Yesterday brought news of the resignation of prominent DA member of the Northern Cape legislature Adv. Boitomelo Babuseng. Neither Babuseng nor DA Northern Cape leader Andrew Louw made any mention of unhappiness with the party’s leadership direction, only referring to Babuseng’s desire to continue with his career in law.

The resignation followed a day after DA parliamentary leader John Steenhuisen, in taking questions after declaring his candidacy for the federal leadership of the DA at Kelvin Gove in Cape Town, said about his relationship with Zille that they had agreed and disagreed very strongly in the past, amongst other things about the desirability of her tweets on colonialism, and that the differences between the positions of leader and of chairperson of the federal executive were clearly delineated.

“She undertook to stay in her lane,” said Steenhuisen, “and if necessary, I will show her where the yellow lines are.

‘And who decides just how wide Zilles’ lane is?’

Which prompted one sage in his Kelvin Grove audience, grey with age and accumulated wisdom, to quip: “And who decides just how wide her lane is?” On social media, the naughty question has been asked what will happen if she demands the whole road.

It has often been argued that in politics, an uncontested victory (such as the one Steenhuisen just enjoyed when he was elected DA parliamentary leader) is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it may show unanimity among the constituency. On the other hand it robs the victor of the spoils of battle.

Whosoever eventually takes over the reins of DA leadership (if it is not Zille herself) will surely know that the definition of Zille’s lane is very much for Zille’s choosing and determination. As her victory over three candidates for the position of executive chairperson – and the subsequent high profile resignations – attest, she is not a spent force (in fact she has the strongest battle-proven DA support base), much as she remains a divisive figure.

Anyone with leadership aspirations in the DA would therefore do well to keep close tabs on Zille’s preferences, or ignore them at their peril. The Zulu saying goes that there can only be one bull in a kraal, and any prospective DA leadership figure would do well to heed the wisdom of the ages.