Helen Zille returns as head of DA Federal Council

By Felix Njini and Paul Vecchiatto

(Bloomberg) – Mmusi Maimane, the leader of South Africa’s main opposition Democratic Alliance, saw his hold on the party slip as his predecessor Helen Zille was elected head of the party’s Federal Council.

Maimane has come under pressure to quit as leader of the DA after the party’s share of the vote shrank to 20.8% in May elections from 22.2% five years earlier. Speculation has been rife that he could be voted out at its next elective conference, due in 2021.

Zille, the former premier of Western Cape province, beat Athol Trollip, a Maimane ally and ex-mayor of the southern city of Port Elizabeth, and two other candidates in the contest for the chairman’s post, Solly Malatsi, the party’s spokesman said in post on Twitter.

A polarising figure, Zille was forced to step down from the DA’s leadership structure in 2017 after a series of controversial tweets in which she defended aspects of colonialism. She said she’d agreed to make a comeback to help stabilise the party and get it back on track – comments that were viewed as critical of Maimane’s leadership.

Also read: Taking a ride on the wild side – Helen Zille explains

The DA wrested control of Johannesburg, the economic hub, and Pretoria, the capital, in 2016 municipal elections as it capitalised on discontent over then-President Jacob Zuma‘s immersion in a succession of scandals. The ruling African National Congress forced Zuma to step down in February last year and replaced him with his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa, enabling it to win back many of its disgruntled supporters.

South Africa is due to hold its next municipal vote in 2021 and national elections in 2024. Ahead of the vote, the DA aims to hold a congress as “soon as constitutionally possible,” it said in a statement. The party also wants to review its positions on the key issues of the economy and jobs.