Pierre de Vos
Pierre de Vos

Zille, Zillier, Zilliest

Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Helen Zille has been very successful at cultivating the image of a no-nonsense, straight-shooting politician who sticks to her principles — no matter what. Her party has over the years also (rightly) lambasted the ANC for covering up the arms-deal corruption and for making statements aimed at undermining the independence and impartiality of the courts.

But in the wake of the appointment of Judge Nathan Erasmus to head a commission of inquiry into allegations of illegal spying and other shenanigans around the floor-crossing period, Zille seems to have thrown all these principles out of the window and, in the process, has probably irrevocably tarnished her image as Mrs Clean.

First, she has instructed her lawyers to take legal action to try to stop the Erasmus commission from doing its work, claiming that the commission was set up with a political motive merely to tarnish the image of the DA and the coalition government it leads in Cape Town. This kind of argument sounds awfully familiar. Is that not the kind of thing that ANC politicians say when they try to rubbish investigations of corruption against its own members? And when ANC politicians make such claims, is it not the kind of thing the DA leader shouts and screams about?

One would have thought that if the DA — and Zille in particular — had nothing to hide, it would welcome the chance to clear its name through such a commission of inquiry. By trying to stop a judge from finding out whether some DA politicians had broken the law, Zille seems to suggest that the DA has something to hide and that the party will do everything in its power to make sure that the truth does not come out.

This makes Zille and the DA appear shifty and dishonest — exactly the opposite of the image the DA leader is trying to project. It also makes Zille look like a rank hypocrite for always finding fault with the secretive ways of the ANC as far as corruption and maladministration is concerned, yet then to try to stop an inquiry into corruption when it deals with her own party. She has every right to challenge the legality of the commission, but politically, this is a very stupid move on her part. After all, people in glass houses should not throw the first stone.

Second, I was rather shocked and surprised to read that Zille had told a radio station that “some judges allow themselves to be abused and I am afraid Nathan Erasmus is one of them”.

In the past the DA had correctly criticised supporters of Jacob Zuma who had impugned the integrity of Judge Hillary Squires after he convicted Schabir Shaik, and had also criticised the new ANC NEC for its scurrilous personal attack on Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke earlier this year. Such attacks, the DA had pointed out, undermine the independence of the judiciary and create distrust and disrespect for the judiciary that ultimately will undermine our democracy.

Yet, Zille attacked Erasmus in very personal terms and accused him of being abused and used by the ANC, and did this in a transparent effort to undermine the credibility of the judge and of the commission that he chairs. This is no different from the ANC Youth League and Young Communist League diatribes and shows a scandalous disregard for our Constitution. If Zille was really a woman of principle, she would, at the very least, have apologised for the comment — yet when given the chance she declined to comment further on the matter.

If she really thinks that Erasmus is being used or that he will be biased against the DA, she can always ask for him to recuse himself or bring an application to court to that effect. But to attack him personally is irresponsible and, once again, hypocritical.

It is also politically stupid because it would suggest to any reasonable bystanders — let alone the average voter — that the DA is trying to hide very serious corruption or maladministration from us and is prepared to say and do anything to stop the damaging information from coming out. What does Helen Zille have to hide, I wonder, that she is going to these lengths and is prepared to tarnish her image in this way in an attempt to stop the commission from doing its work?

These are questions that will not go away. Like allegations about corruptions in the arms deal, which is still haunting the ANC, these latest allegations will continue to haunt the DA and its leader until the party comes clean or until a credible body exonerates it from wrongdoing.

I thought if one person understood this, it would be Helen Zille. But obviously even the most astute and media-savvy of politicians lose all sense of decorum once running a city like Cape Town. Sometimes I wonder whether we have something in the water here in Slaapstad that makes politicians behave in such monumentally stupid ways.