By Anel Powell and Aziz Hartley

A tumultuous era in Western Cape politics ended at midnight as Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille left her position as city mayor to take over as premier-in-waiting.

But the ANC, now the opposition party in the province, has vowed to hold the new government to account if the DA continued at provincial level its "selective" service delivery.

Zille, who is to replace Premier Lynne Brown of the ANC when she is inaugurated on May 6, spent her final day as mayor clearing her Civic Centre office after 1 141 days as the city's political leader.

She has been arrested for taking part in a Cape Flats march against drugs, praised by social columnists for being open about her Botox treatments, criticised for her dancing style, and lauded for her tireless commitment to ensuring service delivery in the city - as seen from her penchant for answering emails at 3am.

Zille said she had enjoyed her three-year tenure and spoke highly of her "competent and formidable" team and colleagues, especially city manager Achmat Ebrahim.

Ebrahim replaced Wallace Mgoqi, one of several officials who were removed when the DA-led administration took over from the ANC in 2006.

Zille said of her move from the city to the province: "It is always sad and difficult to walk away."

She was confident the team she was leaving behind would continue the work begun during her term of office.

She would not comment on her replacement, saying only that the selection of the next DA mayor was part of a "process" that was continuing.

The DA's federal executive met on Tuesday to review the election, but made no announcement about the party's recommended replacement for Zille in the city government.

DA councillor Dan Plato, who was recently transferred to a newly-created position in the mayor's office as the mayoral committee member for service delivery and integration, has been reported to be a possible contender for the position.

Deputy Mayor Grant Haskin is to serve as acting mayor from today until a mayor is elected. Speaker Dirk Smit has called for a special council meeting on May 13 for the election.

Mayoral committee member for corporate services Belinda Walker, one of the woman councillors reportedly being considered as Zille's replacement, said the past three years with Zille at the helm of the DA-led city administration had been an "extraordinarily interesting" period.

Zille's migration from the city council to the top post in the provincial government was, however, the next step in the DA's journey.

"The work goes on for those who are staying behind in the city."

Walker said it was important to continue with council work, particularly service delivery, which did not rely on personalities.

Walker, who was deputy mayor of the city council for two years from 2000 and served as acting mayor during this period, said she would not be the next in line to wear the mayoral chain.

"I have been there and done that. There are other talented people out there," she said.

ANC councillor Xolani Sotashe, one of Zille's more vocal opponents at city council meetings, said yesterday he wished the DA leader well in her new position.

Sotashe said he would telephone Zille to congratulate her later in the day, but he would also ask her to give the ANC, as the official opposition in the provincial legislature, a chance to debate issues in the house.

He said Zille's intolerance of political debate in the city council had been one of her weak points as mayor.

Sotashe said he did not think the accolades heaped on Zille during her office, including the title of World Mayor, were warranted.

"There are lots of disparities in the city. We can talk of two cities, where the affluent areas have been given priority above the poorer areas."

Sotashe said Zille's successor would be "the same potato from the same bag" but that the ANC would continue to challenge the DA for answers and meaningful debate.

"We accept the outcome (of the elections), but the ANC is down, not out."

The party would improve its performance at the next municipal elections in 2011.

The ANC has begun preparing for its new relationship with the DA.

ANC provincial elections task team leader Chris Nissen said yesterday that the ANC would hold the DA to account on service delivery issues.

"Post-elections, we'll say let's get back into working together. Obviously the ANC, in playing an opposition role in the Western Cape, will have to look at issues such as governance and delivery, and in that process we'll not always be buddy-buddy, but have to keep the government on its toes.

"I cannot speak for the (ANC provincial executive committee), but broadly the ANC will always work together with whoever can deliver to the people. But we'll also take that government to task for the failure of delivery."

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