Helen Zille was an anti-apartheid activist who repeatedly put her life in danger in order to bring about a free, non-racist and just South Africa. In addition to exposing the truth about Steve Biko while she was still a journalist, Zille allowed the use of her home as a safe house for other activists and was even forced into hiding for two years from the apartheid security apparatus.
Accordingly like Winnie Mandela and so many other gutsy ladies to whom this country owes an enormous debt, Zille’s approach to particular issues rather than her integrity should be questioned.
Moreover, and in light of the above, I suggest that the term “racist” never be used to describe Zille again and those that do be approached cautiously as their knowledge of the history of this country is sadly lacking.
Zille as “mayor of the year” and the Democratic Alliance leader who took the party to what can only be described as a triumph in this year’s general election is obviously nobody’s fool as well as being someone who has the courage of her convictions.
However there is, to my mind, an area where she is adopting the wrong approach and her courage might be detrimental to progress.
When, for example, the ANC elected its premiers it went overboard in ensuring that the split in candidates selected symbolised its commitment to gender equality. This was not because these were the best 8 premiers available — how would you know until they have been in office — but rather a pool of suitable candidates from whom they employed a selection policy that demonstrated this equality. No doubt there must have been at least 8 men or 8 women who could have been given the posts just as easily but there was a bigger picture to be considered.
Accordingly in her selection of an all-male provincial cabinet Zille has not only missed a trick but thereby insulted women by suggesting that in a party the size of the Democratic Alliance there weren’t any women just as capable as the men selected.
Moreover, if she is not of the view that that problem exists then the right thing to have done is simply to have admitted to a mistake or oversight and immediately rectified the situation. Lashing out was your non-starter for 10.
People’s perceptions, especially in politics, are always more important than the truth. The real truth might never come out or be fully understood while perceptions are what people believe to be the truth regardless of whether it is or not. In other words in most cases — as far as politicians go — people’s perception outranks the truth every time.
Sometimes you have to headhunt the right race, sex and qualifications because — like it or not — people do look at the composition of a party and/or government when deciding whether or not you are sympathetic towards them. When they look they want to see people of the same race, gender and the like occupying part of the seats. That is human nature, people feel safer if those they consider the same as themselves are present.
It is therefore going to take some convincing that the Western Cape places the rights of women and gender equality high on their list of priorities even if the truth is that they are the most forward thinking and acting of all the provinces in this regard. The perception will remain that DA does not believe that gender equality is important because they never picked any women.
People are deluding themselves if they believe that in this day and age you can ignore those perceptions and get away with “we are selecting on the basis of merit”.
The time calls for a lot more sophistication than that.