Zille should lead DA in parliament, Leon says

FORMER DA leader Tony Leon believes party leader Helen Zille should lead the DA's parliamentary caucus rather than be premier of the Western Cape.

Zille announced earlier this week that she intended remaining premier, thereby necessitating a leadership election in the DA parliamentary caucus on May 29, and opening the door to the possibility of a divided caucus.

"I have always believed that a political party should have its strongest leaders in parliament. It has the added advantage of not creating two centres of power," Leon told the Cape Town Press Club yesterday, when he launched his new book, Opposite Mandela, which is an account of encounters with former president Nelson Mandela when Leon was an opposition politician.

"I told Helen Zille that I supported her leading the DA in parliament in 2009. Given the DA's election results, it is clear that the DA voters are quite happy to have her lead the Western Cape, and obviously Western Cape voters are very happy to have her as premier, but I stand by my original view," Leon said.

He said former DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko, who announced at the weekend she was taking a break from politics to study at Harvard University next year, was courageous and intelligent.

"There is never a correct time to make such an announcement, but if she had made it earlier, it would have harmed the DA's election campaign. This was the closest she could be to doing it at the right time.

"I have got to know Lindiwe well, and she often sought my counsel. She has the courage which is a prerequisite in politics. I've been to Harvard. It is the most intellectually stimulating experience I have ever had.

"Being the leader of the opposition is really tough. One is attacked from everywhere.

"What worries me is the high turnover of DA leaders ... The new [parliamentary] leader will be the fourth since 2007.

"Whoever is elected now should be allowed to do their job – and I am not sure that has always been the case – and stay in the job for five years."

Regarding the inexperience of Mmusi Maimane, the DA national spokesman who is widely seen as the frontrunner to replace Mazibuko, Leon said he thought Maimane was smart, engaging and a good platform speaker with an attractive personality.

"Being a parliamentary leader requires much more than that. Whether he meets those requirements, I have no idea." - Jan-Jan Joubert