Sat, 16 Jan 2021

DA showdown: The Iron Lady vs the Bull of Bedford

19 Oct 2019, 16:10 GMT+10

Two DA stalwarts who have strong personalities - Athol Trollip, known as the Bull of Bedford, and Helen Zille, often called the Iron Lady of South African politics - have often found themselves in opposing camps over the years.

And this weekend the latest instalment of the Iron Lady versus the Bull of Bedford will play out when Zille and Trollip vie for the position of federal council chairperson, along with candidates Thomas Walters and Mike Waters.

As things stand, it seems Trollip and Zille are the likeliest candidates to fill the position James Selfe will vacate after 19 years.

Party like it's 2007

Zille and Trollip first squared off against each other in 2007. Later that year, the Springboks won the World Cup.

But enough about possible good omens. Back then, Zille was about a year into her job as Cape Town mayor, managing a fragile coalition and Trollip was the DA leader in the Eastern Cape.

When the votes were counted on May 6, 2007, Zille secured a landslide victory, trumping Trollip with 786 votes to 228. Then DA federal chairperson Joe Seremane was a distant third place with 65 votes.

Two years later, the DA showed sizeable growth in the general elections and won the Western Cape from an ANC that was crippled by infighting and corruption scandals.

EXPLAINED | What is the DA's federal council

Zille moved office from Cape Town's City Hall to 7 Wale Street and took up residence in the Western Cape premier's residence Leeuwenhof. She turned out to be the first Western Cape premier who called the stately Cape Dutch mansion home for 10 years, or two terms.

Meanwhile, Trollip headed to Parliament, where he was elected to lead the DA caucus and became the official leader of the opposition, defeating then party CEO Ryan Coetzee, who was believed to have had Zille's backing.

The same Coetzee recently headed a review of the DA's poor 2019 election showing.

Trollip would stay in this position until October 2011.

Blood on the caucus room floor

By October 2011, the DA's parliamentary caucus positions were up for re-election and 31-year-old party spokesperson Lindiwe Mazibuko threw her hat in the ring to challenge Trollip.

Although she initially had her doubts because of Mazibuko's youthfulness, Zille backed Mazibuko in a brutally contested campaign.

With the party leader's support, Mazibuko thumped Trollip with 50 votes to 31.

"There was blood on the floor before a single vote had been cast," Zille would later write about the election in her autobiography, in which she said it was a mistake to back Mazibuko.

By 2013, relations between Zille and Mazibuko soured, largely due to a disagreement about the DA backing ANC legislation on employment equity. Shortly after the 2014 elections, in which the DA again showed solid growth, Mazibuko announced that she would not return to Parliament, opting to head to esteemed American university Harvard instead.

This paved the way for Zille's new protege, Mmusi Maimane, to be elected leader of the opposition.

Trollip remained an MP until he returned to the Eastern Cape legislature in 2013. He was also the DA's premier candidate in that province in the 2014 election.

Zille steps down

On the morning of Sunday, April 12, 2015, the news broke that Zille would not stand for the DA leadership at the party conference about a month later. It came out of the blue. Days before, it seemed that Zille would be elected unopposed once again.

Before Zille's decision, Trollip had already made known his intentions to compete for the position of federal chairperson and it looked like he stood a very good chance.

READ | DA Federal Council - How delegates will elect a new FedCo chairperson

It is understood that a part of Zille's reasoning was that the party would be doomed if it headed into the 2016 municipal election when its top three leaders - Zille, Trollip and Selfe - were white, News24 previously reported.

So she stood down, paving the way for Trollip to become federal chairperson and Maimane to become federal leader. Trollip and Maimane very much formed a slate heading into the May 2015 conference in Port Elizabeth, where they emerged victorious.

Zille remained premier of the Western Cape until the May 2019 elections. She ran into some trouble with the DA leadership (which included Trollip as federal chairperson) after her controversial tweets about colonialism.

After the 2016 election - in which the DA again made electoral inroads, albeit against an ANC weakened by its scandal-riddled president - Trollip became mayor of the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality in a coalition government until the EFF decided to "cut the throat of whiteness" by removing him in retribution for the DA's non-support of a motion on land expropriation without compensation in the National Assembly. After several attempts, a motion of no confidence in Trollip succeeded with the support of the EFF, ANC and UDM, after a DA councillor did not vote with the party line.

The battle for chairperson of the DA's federal council

Now, 12 years after they first entered into battle for a position, Zille and Trollip are again in opposing corners (the Springboks are also in a World Cup again). While Trollip's decision to compete for the position hardly raised an eyebrow, Zille entering the arena, again, came out of the blue.

After her second term as premier came to an end, she took a position at the conservative think-tank, the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), seemingly bidding party politics adieu.

What is at stake?

In short, a highly influential role in the party is at stake. The person in this role is in charge of how the party functions and will play a key role in reforms and how the party positions this for the future.

The DA's chairperson of the federal council is a key position in the party's federal structure. It can be described as the head of the party machinery, a role akin to that of the ANC's secretary general.

The DA's constitution states the person in this position is "entrusted with and responsible for the organisation and administration of the party, and for developing and maintaining a high degree of efficiency in the party".

This person must implement decisions of the federal council and federal executive, work closely with the federal leader, federal chairperson, federal chairperson of finance, and chief executive officer, and perform other functions and duties, and exercise powers assigned to him or her within the provisions of the constitution by the federal leader, federal council and federal executive.

What do candidates Zille and Trollip offer delegates?

In their public messages to federal council delegates, Zille and Trollip campaigned on remarkably similar agendas - strengthening the organisation, fostering unity, stability and diversity and adhering to constitutional values.

"We must heal our party," Zille said in a campaign video.

"We need to support each other. And I think that we need that ethos back in the DA," Trollip said in a video of his own.

ALSO READ | Here's what the four DA candidates vying for James Selfe's position have to offer

Trollip's campaign also touched on his loyalty to the party, illustrated by his continued presence despite previous leadership snubs.

Neither delved too deeply in ideology during the campaign. This is par for the course with Trollip. He is generally perceived as much more of a pragmatist than an ideologue.

While Zille brought a very technocratic approach to her governance as mayor and premier, she was always also outspoken about her liberal principles.

Who is supporting them?

The election of chairperson of the federal council could be seen as a litmus test for Maimane's support in the party.

Trollip is very much aligned with Maimane and Maimane's supporters are expected to back him. This would be DA members satisfied with the DA policy direction under Maimane, which places a greater emphasis on race issues and diversity than previously. In other words, not that which has become known as the classical liberals. Several provincial leaders have indicated that they support Maimane.

Zille's support is expected to come from those who call themselves classic liberals, who reject race-based policies such as black economic empowerment and those disillusioned with Maimane's leadership. She will, in all likelihood, also get a few loyalty votes, probably many from the Western Cape.

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