Helen’s accomplishments are legendary from exposing the lies regarding the death of Steve Biko, to opposing Apartheid during her days as a member of the Black Sash to her growing the DA from an inconsequential political party into one of substantial heft.
But now Zille is a liability to the Democratic Alliance.
Why? She is damaging not only herself but also the DA and ultimately South Africa.
Main picture: Helen Zille
Cause of the ruckus
In a series of early morning tweets on her return to South Africa on 16th of March, while in transit at OR Tambo Airport, Zille asked what lessons could be learnt from this former British colony. She suggested that some of these were: “1) meritocracy; 2) multiculturalism; 3) work ethic; 4) open to globalism; 4) English. 5) future orientation. Other reasons for Singapore’s success: Parents take responsibility for children, and build on valuable aspects of colonial heritage.”
While one cannot find fault with any of those points, what Zille failed to mention that perhaps apart from English, all of these aspects were not introduced by the British but rather their successors, the local rulers. In fact, it was the autocratic Lee Kuan Yew who had the vision to do so. It was under his tutelage and leadership that Singapore transitioned from the “third world to first world in a single generation.” What she also fails to mention is that Singapore was a dictatorship. Maybe more benign rather brutal, but nevertheless not an example that one wishes to emulate.
If Zille had questioned any local Singaporian, these rudimentary facts would have been brought to her attention.
My point of departure from Zille
Much to my dismay, Zille never learnt any lessons about the limitations of tweeting. Some years ago, she was reprimanded for inadvisably using the term “refugees” on Twitter as a term for Blacks relocating to the Western Cape. I abhor twitter for several reasons:
- One cannot articulate a complex problem in 140 characters especially sensitive emotive issues
- It is in writing and hence there is no plausible deniability option
- It is usually written in a fit of pique
Neither has Donald Trump learnt about these limitations of Twitter.
All communication from politicians is scrutinised from all angles for inconsistencies with previous statements and policy positions. Any such mistakes or missteps are like manna to the opposing parties. Ever wondered why most political statements are bland and their achievements embellished? It is for this reason. One does not want to alienate any possible constituency even the left-handed or the one-eyed. If any faction is perceived to be slighted, the message is not well received.
The problem with the discussion of historical injustices, is that it depends upon the prism through which one views the situation. It is easy for the injustice to be shrugged off by the perpetrators of the injustice because they never had to endure it. It takes a singular commitment on the part of the perpetrator to understand the hurt, anguish and harm that they caused. Take the example of rape. Even if the perpetrator is sentenced shortly after the event, the female is haunted by the experience for the rest of her life. Most might not have long lasting physical scars, but the mental and emotional scars are life long, living evidence of a deep-rooted trauma.
In the case of Apartheid and Colonialism, a whole society will be blighted for generations thereafter. Take the example of the Boer War and the psyche of the Afrikaner. Even a century later, a sense of outrage and disgust still pervades the discussion. Issues such as the concentration camps and the scorched earth policy are still regurgitated in excruciating detail as happened to me during a 10km trail run recently. Apparently the Afrikaner Volk are unable to usher in a new era. Amnesia is not expected but the palpable hurt and victimhood is no longer necessary.
Often it is the cavalier or blasé attitude of the guilty party to these injustices which inflames the emotions of the victim even more.
The only way in which the perpetrator can grasp the toxic cocktail of emotions coursing through the victim’s veins, is to place oneself in the shoes of the other party. Imagine the daily indignities experienced those people. Imagine if your superiors always called your ability into question and berated you for all manner of illogical things. All but the most resilient will descend into a blue funk. Or could not be treated in the PE Provincial Hospital because they were black despite the accident occurring at the front gate. The slights on people’s dignity was unremitting and a array of forms.
One can blame the Nationalist Party and their dehumanising Apartheid policy. But even though Apartheid might only have been introduced in 1948, history still serves as a grim reminder that there had been a flagrant abuse of racist power long before that, which unfairly favoured the whites.
History teaches us that South Africa will be mired in the quicksand of racism and hurt in various forms for the next generation at least. The political endeavours of the EFF and ANC are facile in comparison with that of that of the DA. By not having to consort with the whites in South Africa, they can disregard their feelings much like Julius Malema did with this obnoxious quote: “You white people mustn’t cheer me on because I’m opposing Zuma. He is my enemy exactly because he protects white privilege.” What “white privilege” I declaim?
Instead, the DA has embarked on a socially fraught endeavour of convincing black South Africans that they have the best interests of all South Africans at heart, including Blacks, and that it is not a party of latent or even recalcitrant racists. Maimane has already publicly committed himself and his party to oppose all forms of racist or colonialist behaviour or any such manifestations. Instead, what is Mmusi Maimane now faced with? The accusation that Zille et al are indeed racist and a supporter of colonialism. Maimane will only be able to disprove this by his stubborn refusal to countenance apologists for racism or colonialism. Due to the sensitivity of issues regarding racism and colonialism, Helen’s vigorous defence of her tweet has placed, has publicly undermined Mmusi’s contention to the contrary.
Hence, Mmusi Maimane is in the invidious position of being torn between Scylla and Charybdis. I implore him to adopt the lesser of two evils: ditch Zille. Maimane’s credentials will then be secure as the upholder of the values that he espouses. If he does not – as former DA leader Tony Leon alludes to – Maimane will severely stunt the DA’s growth trajectory in the long term. Sure, there will be short-term repercussions in the DA’s white constituency, but the long-term future of the DA as a truly non-racial party will be secured.
Like a latter day Margaret Thatcher, Helen Zille is now stone deaf to the demands of the future South African project, as Julius Malema would say.
Atoning for her blunder is no longer possible.
For the DA, this dispiriting tale has more chance of ending badly given the fact that Helen Zille is digging in her heels. Maimane’s wish is that either she be swallowed up in a sinkhole or quietly resigns.
But given Zille’s dogged temperament, the latter is not a likely outcome.