S.Africa opposition set for first black leader

AFP , Sunday 10 May 2015

Mmusi Maimane
pposition Democratic Alliance MP Mmusi Maimane March 11, 2015 (Photo: AP)

Members of South Africa's opposition Democratic Alliance voted Sunday at a congress expected to elect the party's first black leader in what has been billed as a watershed moment for the mostly white party.

Some 1,425 delegates from across the country began casting their votes by secret ballot early in the morning with all eyes on Mmusi Maimane, 34, the party's parliamentary leader and the favourite to succeed outgoing leader Helen Zille, who has led the party for eight years.

Maimane was raised in the township of Soweto -- heartland of the anti-apartheid struggle -- and joined the Democratic Alliance (DA) only in 2009.

He faces competition from Wilmot James, a 61-year-old mixed-race party veteran who is current the party's chairman.

"Voting has closed and counting is now underway. Results are expected by 1 pm (1100 GMT)," said Congress Presiding Officer Penny Tainton.

Sunday's vote marks "a milestone for the DA and South African politics", according to an editorial in the Sunday Times.

"For much of the past two decades, our political contest has been a black versus white affair, with the ANC (African National Congress) seen as the party of the previously oppressed and the DA as a party of white interests," the newspaper added.

It said the new leader would face a "tough balancing act" between growing support for the party without alienating its traditional voters.

Many delegates would not reveal who they were voting for, although Lydia Makoe from Limpopo province in the north made her preference for Maimane clear.

"He is our new leader, there can't be any better candidate," she said.

In 2014 Maimane was elected as the party leader in parliament, with Zille's backing, and he has on several times locked horns with the ruling ANC lawmakers, including President Jacob Zuma.

In 2014 he also unsuccessfully ran for position of premier of Gauteng province, South Africa's economic hub which includes the city of Johannesburg.

Zille, a charismatic former journalist and anti-apartheid activist, has not endorsed any candidate to succeed her but on Saturday said the new leadership will have her support.

She will announce her successor.

Under Zille the DA made inroads in areas long dominated by the ANC, and it is looking to grow its support in the next local government elections in 2016.

The DA boosted its share of the vote from 16.6 percent in 2009 to 22.2 percent in 2014 elections, but still struggles to present itself as a credible alternative to the ANC, which has ruled since the formal end of apartheid in 1994.

The DA has its roots in the now defunct Progressive Party, co-founded by the late anti-apartheid activist Helen Suzman in 1959.

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