ANALYSIS: Helen Zille may have unfinished business, but would her return to DA be helpful?

Analysts have questioned how helpful it would be for the Democratic Alliance's (DA) future to elect former party leader Helen Zille to head its federal council, given the realities it currently faces.

Political analyst Angelo Fick told News24 that Zille's bid to return to politics may be because she has unfinished business there, as the party does some introspection.

However, as the party decides on which of the four candidates would be best for the job, it also has to think hard about what its vision is for its future, and accept that for the majority of people in South Africa, the issue of race is important.

Zille dropped a bombshell on Friday with a public announcement that she was suspending her fellowship at the Institute for Race Relations (IRR) to throw her hat in the ring for the position, alongside fellow contenders Athol Trollip, Thomas Walters and Mike Waters, to replace James Selfe.

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

Fick said that as the official opposition, the DA would be in a state of introspection after its electoral performance decline in May 2019, and part of that would involve questions about Mmusi Maimane's leadership of the party.

This, as reports have emerged that Maimane drove a car bought by controversial Steinhoff figure Markus Jooste, and declared a R4m home in Claremont, Cape Town as his own. The DA's financial committee has cleared him of any wrongdoing.

"But those questions pre-date the election and go back as far as the controversy around the Democratic Alliance's policy on, among other things, affirmative action and broad-based economic empowerment," Fick observed.

"And so what I think we're seeing now, Helen Zille's departure, and now her prompt that she wants to return, is an indication that that debate has not been settled, as it would have been in a different party."

He said Zille's relationship with Maimane started as a good one when he became leader, but went slightly awry as a result of her Twitter activity, because of Maimane having to intervene.

He said the DA now has to decide how it wants to relate to future electoral politics in South Africa, but it still speaks the "older tradition of liberal white South African politics" due to its history.

"In a country like South Africa, any party that has its eye on something other than opposition has to appeal to the broader public," said Fick.

He said the party must decide how it is going to speak to the 58 million people living in a post-millennial, post-apartheid South Africa, if it is to survive the next decade as something other than a "minoritarian interest".

"And this I think, is a challenge that is best met by younger people in South African parties – it is a problem all parties in South Africa face."

Race a 'crucial determining role'

He thought the party would respond to this, but believed its current candidates for the federal executive post are a "late 20th century group of people, or people who found their politics in the late 20th century", vying for leadership in the 21st century for a party that has just had electoral decline.

Another point raised by Fick is that very prominent black people were publicly forwarded and advanced in the party, and then suddenly disappeared from view.

"Examples are Lindiwe Mazibuko, Mbali Ntuli, and in some respects with what is happening with Maimane," he said.

The tension caused by the latest developments is not because Zille is white, but because she has a vision of South Africa that is already "beyond the value of race".

"For the majority of South Africans, race continues to be a very crucial determining role in their lives, around access to resources, access to opportunities, precisely because class and race continue to be so closely matched in South Africa.

"In a majority poor country, having people who were…middle class beneficiaries of the last 25 years tell people who have not been beneficiaries over the last 25 years, that the things that they say matters to them are 'falsehoods', is a bad way of politicking.

"And to tell a majority of poor South Africans who are black that race does not play a role and shouldn't play a role in their lives, is a strange thing for a party who wishes to speak to that majority, to insist on."

He said, however, that Zille had already proved as premier and mayor of Cape Town that she is very hard working, and that she put in a lot of effort to get opposing parties to work together.

Her return 'is not going to be helpful' - Prof Sarakinsky

Professor Ivor Sarakinsky from the Wits School of Governance however does not believe that Zille's return to the political party will be of any assistance.

"It is not going to be helpful due to the controversy around her, as well as her undermining of leadership and its decisions. This is only going to embarrass herself and party leaders," he told News24 on Sunday.

In addition, he believes that the chances of her emerging victorious in this race to replace James Selfe will be slim to none.

"It is unlikely. There are better candidates with better credibility standing against her. If she stands, she will most likely split the vote, which could be a part of her strategy," he explained.

This move by the former Western Cape premier is just part of the factional divisions within the political party, according to Sarakinsky.

"There are no doubts that there are factions within the DA. This is just part of the factional battles – Zille's faction could be the hard liberals, the public defenders," he explained.

Political analyst Ralph Mathekga shared similar sentiments, stating that Zille's return could "spell more trouble for the DA as it would throw the party into chaos", Eyewitness News reported.

He told EWN that he did not understand what Zille would have to contribute further, "given her latest controversial posture".

The federal council is expected to sit on Friday, to decide on who to elect to the leadership position.