Former DA leaders Mmusi Maimane and Athol Trollip at a press conference in Cape Town. Both Maimane and Trollip announced their resignation from leadership on Wednesday. File picture: Ayanda Ndamane/ African News Agency (ANA).

CAPE TOWN - DA Federal Council chairperson Helen Zille has said the decision of Mmusi Maimane and Athol Trollip to resign from the party's leadership structure meant there was a "challenging road" ahead for the party.

Maimane resigned as leader of the official opposition while Athol Trollip quit as federal chairman, creating a leadership vacuum for the official opposition party that weakened in May by losing 1.5% of support in the national elections.

"I will today step down as leader of the DA," Maimane told a press conference in Johannesburg on Wednesday.

Maimane said he had wrestled with the decision for days and would remain the party's parliamentary leader. However, he added, he would urge the DA to call a national conference and elect new leaders early in the new year.

His resignation follows that of Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba, who stepped down in protest at the return of former party leader Helen Zille to active politics as the chairwoman of the DA's federal council.

Maimane did not spare Zille, who stood behind him as he announced his resignation. 

He said they had clashed on issues, in particular her controversial comments of colonialism, but that the mutual respect between them had endured. Even so, he said, he believed that those remarks, made in 2016 after she returned from a trip to Singapore, had not served the DA's vision of a harmonious, equal, non racial society.

His decision to step down was informed by a campaign by a faction within the party who opposed his political vision and endangered his family by ensuring that photos of their home were splashed in the Afrikaans press, he said.

"And in the end we have come to the conclusion that despite my best efforts, the DA is not the vehicle best suited to take forward the vision of building One South Africa for All," he said.

Trollip said his decision to vacate his post at the same time was made because he believed the leadership carried collective responsibility for the party's turmoil in recent months.

Zille, meanwhile said the party was taking legal advice on who, in terms of its constitution, should now fill the post of leader in the wake of the duo's move. 

It would normally fall to the federal chairman but Trollip's decision to resign had created an unprecedented situation, she said.

Zille said she wished both men well.

African News Agency (ANA)