Democratic Alliance (DA) MPs yesterday elected Sandra Botha of Free State as leader of the opposition in Parliament in the hope that she will help new DA leader Helen Zille broaden the party’s support among blacks and the youth.
Describing herself as a team player who stands her ground, Botha indicated she would bring a new, less combative style to the National Assembly.
Botha beat Tertius Delport by 31 votes to 25, with one spoilt paper. The fact that both are Afrikaans counted in their favour as candidates as this was considered important to achieve diversity within the party leadership.
The vote was based less on ideological differences and background than on personality and the image of the party.
“There was a yearning within the caucus for a completely new face untouched by the past who could reach out to the DA’s new constituency,” said one DA MP.
Political researcher Jonathan Faull said Botha was probably elected not so much on her appeal to the DA’s targeted constituency as on being a better option than Delport, a former apartheid cabinet minister who would have been a stick with which the African National Congress could beat the DA.
Zille said at a media conference that the fact that the DA now had two women in its high-profile positions was not an issue with its supporters, who had indicated in a survey that gender was irrelevant in the choice of leader. The most important criterion was competence.
Former Gauteng leader Ian Davidson was elected unopposed as chief whip, and Mike Ellis unopposed as deputy. Wattie Watson was elected leader of the opposition in the National Council of Provinces (NCOP), and Kraai van Niekerk re-elected chairman of the caucus, with Janet Semple and James Masango his deputies. National Assembly whips will be Sandy Kalyan, Willem Doman, Donald Lee and Paul Swart. Juanita Terblanche will be DA whip in the NCOP.
Active in the progressive anti-apartheid movement, Botha was deputy secretary-general of the National Women’s Coalition, deputy director of the Independent Electoral Commission in Free State and DA caucus leader in the NCOP.
She chaired the United Nations working group on rural women, and was chosen by National Assembly speaker Baleka Mbete as first DA chairwoman of the National Assembly, a position she has now relinquished.