Helen Zille and the Disorder of Things

So, the saga of the Helen Zille colonialism tweets will finally be brought before the DA’s Disciplinary Committee this week. Quite frankly, the fact that this saga has been drawn out over nearly 3 months, and the struggle between the current DA leader, Mmusi Maimane, and Zille, the former leader, has yielded nothing but damage to the party. Last weekend’s process faux pax, coupled with Zille’s continued legal delays did not sit well with those on social media, and everyone, either inside or outside the party, have taken sides. Unless a collaborative solution is found to this mess (which, I fear, will not be the case), one side will undoubtedly lose hard.

But, back to the tweets in question. Just about all the political commentators worth following in this country have slammed Helen for her tweets, calling them insensitive to the country’s ugly and horrific past. And I must agree with them. The book, Diamonds Gold and War by Martin Meredith, outlines in painstaking and heartbreaking detail just how colonialism from the British and the Boers decimated the African population, the effects of which we still very much experience today. And even though she repeatedly has said that it was not her intention to glorify colonialism in any way, that’s what unfortunately the perception turned out to be.

However, she does have a point. Like Nelson Mandela and many of our history textbook authors have said, some of the vestiges of colonialism left behind can be used to improve the lives of those who were disadvantaged by the system.

But here’s the point of departure. We, as South African society, are nowhere close to the point where we can debate this issue rationally and collaboratively to attain the outcomes that Helen wished that we attain. While Singapore might have successfully converted colonialism to its benefit, there are FAR too many differences between our situation and theirs. The first natural point that should come to mind is the widening gap between rich and poor. There can be absolutely no doubt that this a direct consequence of the cruel system set in place in the 19th century, and we cannot talk about reversing colonialism without first addressing our gini coefficient head on.

And herein, I believe, lies the crux of the differences between Maimane and Zille. Mmusi has directed the focus on the party squarely on, among others, building an inclusive economy by job creation. This future-orientated strategy is in direct contrast to Zille, who wants to look to the past to find solutions to the future.

The unfortunate reality of this situation is that these 2 views are so divergent that there is little hope of attaining a common ground that transcends the foundation of each view. And since, Helen still has a significant following in the party, coupled with her stubborn defense of her views and Mmusi’s duty to stamp his authority on the matter, the disciplinary hearing can only be seen as a dogfight between these 2 leaders.

This, of course, could not have come at a worse time for the party. The news leaks of the Gupta family influencing a plethora of government ministers and officials through email communication (commonly known as the #GuptaEmails) should have been cannon fodder for the DA to twist the knife into the chest of the ANC parliamentary caucus, ahead of the motion of no confidence to be heard once the legal challenges to whether it should be a secret ballot or not is concluded. But, alas, we focus on a leadership struggle of our own, thereby letting the ANC off the hook and compromising our position, momentarily, on corruption.

One thing is for sure, though. Helen Zille is no racist. In her book, Not without a Fight, she magnificently outlines her life, from a trace of her family roots in Nazi Germany, to her struggle with anorexia, her journalism career, her vital role in the struggle against apartheid and her subsequent career in the Democratic Alliance. It’s clear that her legacy is one of struggle, and victory, for freedom and opportunity for all.

But, because of this current matter, I fear her legacy is under serious threat. Max du Preez, in his latest column, calls on Helen to graciously step away from this last fight in order to preserve her legacy and retire. While I agree with his first point, I think she should be allowed to complete her term as Premier of the Western Cape, and then do what she has said she wanted to do; raise up a new crop of leaders and activists for the party.

It’s in the interest of all involved, as well as the nation. And this, essentially, is what Helen Zille is all about.

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