De Villiers quits council to focus on family, farm

Rochelle de Kock

AFTER almost 20 years in politics, the DA's Nelson Mandela Bay caucus leader, councillor Leon de Villiers, is bowing out to spend more time with his family and focus on his cattle farming.

The caucus still has to select the person who will not only take over as the party's leader in the council, but effectively be the face of the DA for the 2016 local government election campaign.

De Villiers announced his resignation to the caucus on Friday, but only made his decision public yesterday.

His resignation will be effective from the end of this month.

Although De Villiers insisted there was nothing sinister about his resignation, some councillors within the party said he was of the "old, conservative guard" who did not necessarily take well to transformation.

DA leader Helen Zille has been trying hard to shed the image of the DA as a party for white elitists, a move evidenced by her recent failed bid to snag AgangSA leader Mamphela Ramphele as the DA's presidential candidate.

She has also backed young black leaders to head strategic positions within the party.

However, De Villiers said he had planned to retire as far back as 2011. "I've stayed for three years longer than I originally wanted to, so it's not a case of leaving early.

"There's nothing sinister about my decision. I've just spent enough time in politics and I need to give my wife and my grandkids more of my time. And I'm still running an ox farm," De Villiers said.

He has been a councillor since November 1994, although he started out as a councillor for the Sundays River Party before switching to the then Democratic Party in 1997, which later changed to the DA.

He said he would remain a member of the DA.

Asked if his decision to resign now had been influenced by the way in which the party was trying to transform itself, or the recent DA-Agang debacle, De Villiers said he believed the DA was moving in the right direction.

"You may hear rumblings within the party, which you'll get in any organisation, but I do believe the party is moving in the right direction.

"I do believe the DA will win in 2016 and that it's going to be a force to be reckoned with. The party is going places.

"You must take risks and make decisions and every leader makes mistakes, but the difference with the DA is that it admits to its mistakes," he said.

A councillor within the caucus said some of the older conservative councillors felt neglected by the party which was trying to woo new voters.

The councillor believes strongly that De Villiers probably feels that he no longer identifies with the new image of the DA.

"There were things said in caucus meetings that offended some councillors and it has been difficult for some to change the old perceptions.

"A lot of councillors were very unhappy with the way Stanford Slabbert was dealt with and actually agreed with what he had done, and now recently some were unhappy with the Ramphele decision."

Slabbert was fired last year from the DA for distributing a racist e-mail.

Another councillor said it was "very difficult" for the older white councillors to adjust to the new direction in which the DA was headed.

"It's easier for the younger councillors to adapt to transformation, especially when you're dealing with people's cultures.

"But I do think the reasons he has left are largely personal," the councillor said.

Caucus spokesman Andrew Whitfield said: "We have to declare the position available first and then a caucus leader is elected within the ranks. We haven't decided on a date for that meeting just yet."