Zille defends her decision to bring back Gwen Ngwenya

Federal council chairperson says she ‘went through all the processes’ in reinstating former policy head

'I went through all the processes' - Zille defends her decision to bring back Gwen Ngwenya

18 November 2019

Still on the rebound after the shock resignation of its former leader, Mmusi Maimane, the DA is clashing over federal council chairperson Helen Zille's latest pick for its top ranks.

Zille's decision to reinstate former policy head Gwen Ngwenya has been met with much resistance. Members of the DA's federal executive and federal council raised concerns on Sunday.

News24 understands the federal executive discussed the matter and that some members were uncomfortable about the processes that were followed and an apparent lack of transparency.

"Part of the debate was on how the process unfolded. When was it advertised and Helen [Zille] explained that due to time constraints, Gwen [Ngwenya] was the most suited as she had previously played the role of policy head for the DA," a party leader said.

It was raised again during the federal council meeting, which elected parliamentary leader John Steeinhuisen as interim leader and Dr Ivan Meyer as the replacement for former federal chairperson Athol Trollip.

Trollip resigned along with Maimane although he is still a member of the party.

Insiders say there was "pushback" against the idea to bring Ngwenya back into the leadership fold of the federal council, which is the party's highest decision-making structure outside of the federal congress.

"Just her (Ngwenya) as a person, did not go down well with some in the council," another source told News24.

"There are concerns about how she left her role, that she brought the organisation into disrepute and people didn't feel comfortable with the processes followed by [Zille]," added a second source.

'This is not a Mickey Mouse operation'

This second insider said Ngwenya could not be treated as if she was the only policy guru in the country and added that it was best to open up the process and allow those who have an interest to apply for the post.

Another council member said if Ngwenya was reappointed policy head, it would signal the beginning of the end for Steenhuisen.

The senior member said Steenhuisen who, he believed, was against Ngwenya's reappointment, needed to show his independence early.

"I don't care if she is appointed, but someone must take that action - not Helen, it must be John. We want to see what he will do in his first days. Will he endorse her? This will allow us an idea on who and what we are working with. John has to take a decision on the issue. He must say if he wants Gwen employed and if he does, he must accept the consequences and be able to deal with the fallout that comes with that decision. You appoint Gwen, you inherit her image, her faction and the divisions that come with her. You can't duck and dive forever. You must make a statement."

The senior member added that the legitimacy of the appointment was questioned during the council.

"You can't just hire at will. Due process must be followed," the member said, adding that "[p]ositions need to be advertised and they must comply with the law. Go to Helen and ask her where she was transparent. This is not a Mickey Mouse operation."

When asked about Ngwenya's name coming up during deliberations, Steeinhuisen said it was still an ongoing process.

"The federal executive will be convening later this week but that is not my lane, that is Helen's lane. She will be leading that discussion on that particular matter," Steeinhuisen said during a media briefing shortly after he was elected interim leader.

Zille, defending her actions, told News24 she did what she needed to do because time was not on the DA's side. She insisted that she "meticulously" followed due process.

She also said her decision was partly because the federal council gave her a mandate to urgently start the process towards the party's policy conference in April 2020. She cited that the December holidays were around the corner and that a large amount of work needed to be done.

"I followed absolutely every process in HR and on the resolutions of federal council and I took it to NMC (national management committee), which is allowed to take decisions and I went through all the processes," said Zille.

"I got on with the job I was mandated to do and I did it," she continued.

Zille, who didn't seem fazed by the concerns raised, questioned which processes members of the federal executive and federal council were unhappy about, saying no one specified which process she failed to adhere to.

"They are saying I should have consulted the newly elected chairperson; he was very much part of the discussions. But he had not been elected federal chairperson yet, but he was there," Zille said. She was referring to Meyer.

The federal council chairperson said the matter remained on the table and would be discussed again on Friday.

Meanwhile, Makashule Gana who lost to Steeinhuisen in the race for interim leader, told News24 he would make sure branches were launched so that delegates from his constituency and across Gauteng could be represented and the early congress.

"When South Africans look at us, they must see a party that is going to build an inclusive SA. They must see that the DA is a true home for all South Africans," said Gana.

"This is something we are working towards to make sure it's realised and we are not going to stop," he said.