Helen Zille says she is prepared to return to the job as Mayor of Cape Town, a post which she vacated to become Premier of the Western Cape in 2009. She says her life is her work. She has to retire as premier in 2019, but she wants to complete her fixed two-year term. Zille's supporters see her as the best candidate to put an end to the public clash between incumbent mayor Patricia de Lille and the ruling party in the city and province, the Democratic Alliance.
“I have been approached but I want to finish my term,” she told The Cape Messenger.
The announcement made late on Wednesday night changes the picture for the contest for mayor completely. Now that she is running, it is very likely that opposing candidates – such as mayoral committee member Xanthea Limberg, Angus McKenzie and Grant Twigg – will fall away. De Lille has agreed to leave office at the end of October - after a 10 month bitter clash with the DA leadership.
It is now most likely that Ian Neilson, the Deputy Mayor, will be elected mayor in the interim while the premier completes her term. National and provincial elections are likely to be held in June or July next year. At that point Zille can take the reigns of the city again – a role she played for just three years from 2006 to 2009.
She told a national newspaper: "I definitely won’t be retiring (in 2019). I have to work. It’s my life.”
At the age of 67, Zille has been in executive office for a considerable period. Before she became premier she served as Western Cape MEC for Education. She served as the Democratic Alliance’s leader - she was elected national leader in 2007 - while she was Mayor and retained that role while she served as premier from 2009 to 2015.
According to Wikipedia on 15 March 2007, Zille declared herself a candidate to succeed outgoing leader of the DA, Tony Leon. A favourite from the start, with backing from the Western Cape, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, the Northern Cape, the Free State and even the Eastern Cape (regarded during much of the build-up as the stronghold of main rival Athol Trollip), she was elected as the new leader by a large majority on 6 May 2007. She indicated that she would lead the party from outside Parliament, while continuing in her position as executive mayor of Cape Town.
As party leader Zille led her party to increased majorities province- and nation-wide.
The 2009 general elections presented Zille with her first major electoral contest as leader of the DA. As candidate for Premier of the Western Cape, and her party succeeded in winning a 51.23 percent of the province's vote. Zille was installed as Premier, and replaced as mayor by Dan Plato. Nationally, the DA gained significant ground as official opposition, winning 16.66 percent of the vote, and increasing its tally of seats in both houses of Parliament to 77.
Following the 2014 general elections, the DA won 59.38% of the vote and 26 seats in the Western Cape provincial legislature. Under her leadership, the party also won 89 seats in the National Assembly and 22.23% of the National vote. Zille was sworn into a second term on 26 May with 27 votes out of 42, her opponent being Marius Fransman of the ANC.
Zille has retained a keen interest in municipal matters – and has kept an eye on the recent disruption of Metrorail in Cape Town by sinister forces.
The news that Zille could be headed back to Cape Town will have taken the party leader by surprise. Mmusi Maimane has acknowledged in public that Zille should have left office when he took office.
ln an interview with the Sunday Times recently, Maimane said it was, "untenable to keep your former leader and your current leader ... in the same structures, or in the same functions."
He told the newspaper Zille should have been given a different role, adding, "Being a party leader is like being a pilot, flying through turbulent waters. The last thing you need is the former pilot sitting in the jump seat trying to tell you what to do."
Maimane, who struck a deal with outgoing Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille earlier this month, said a new mayor to replace De Lille would be chosen quickly.
Zille came to power in the City of Cape Town in 2006 by carefully cobbling together a range of political parties. At that point, the DA did not have an overall majority on the council, although it had emerged as the strongest party in the municipal polls of that year.
In the 2006 municipal elections, the DA became the single largest party in Cape Town with 42% of the vote, ahead of the African National Congress (ANC). Zille was elected mayor by 106 votes to 103 on 15 March 2006, after the DA obtained the support of several smaller parties.
If Zille does indeed get chosen as the mayoral candidate – which now looks most likely – she could lead the city until the municipal poll in 2021 and can then go on for another five-year term to 2026. By then she will be 75.
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