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Zille needs to understand symbolism

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.


  • Mike Trapido is a criminal attorney and publicist having also worked as an editor and journalist. He was born in Johannesburg and attended HA Jack and Highlands North High Schools. He married Robyn in 1984 (Mrs Traps, aka "the government") and has three sons (who all look suspiciously like her ex-boss). He was a counsellor on the JCCI for a year around 1992. His passions include Derby County, Blue Bulls, Orlando Pirates, Proteas and Springboks. He takes Valium in order to cope with Bafana Bafana's results. Practice Michael Trapido Attorney (civil and criminal) 011 022 7332 Facebook


  1. mundundu mundundu 21 May 2009

    further to kit’s point —

    i’m a stay at home dad. i’m also a single parent. my job allows me to stay at home, and to be home when he gets in from school every day. it’s nice.

    but that said, it’s hard bloody work. i would prefer to have two jobs; one in town and one at home, but since i can’t choose, i’ll work from home.


    there are black racists. i’m related to quite a few.

    that said, i am far more pro-black than i am anti-white. [you really, really don’t want to know my views on interracial marriage.]

    the police incident: it’s the black guy’s fault for even wanting to live around so many white people in the first place. eish. i don’t think i could do such a thing, honestly. why would i want to, anyway?

    dave harris:

    please click on this link for the provincial cabinet, and please click on this link for the national cabinet.

    compare and contrast qualifications for the positions.

  2. anton kleinschmidt anton kleinschmidt 21 May 2009

    @ Dave Harris….whilst Lyndall is preparing her reply maybe you can tell us why you feel that Helen Zille did NOT pick her cabinet on merit. Maybe you can also enlighten us on what you mean by a “country club cabinet” or am I wrong in seeing an insult where none exists.

  3. La Quebecoise La Quebecoise 21 May 2009

    @Mundundu; j’habite dans la region depuis 7 ans, et en Afrique divers depuis 1968; a mon avis, c’est vrai, les blanc ne rouspete pas…ils FONT quelquechose; les noirs font la greve, et attendent que quelque chose soit fait part ‘lLES AUTRES’; les ancetres ou le bon dieu.

    @Dave Harris; thanks for that suggestion about associating the blogs and different social behaviour with ‘good and evil’; I hadn’t thought of it that way. I have interpreted the reaction to President Zuma’s polygamy, leopard robes and dancing as more Old FAshioned, and how will we (the West) ever learn to deal with him, if we (the West again) couldn’t move forward with Mbeki. And I have been thinking mostly about verbal communication because it takes in the visual (leopard skins and all) and the body language; Tony Blair and Mbeki are quite a show. But I’ll think about adding the written dimension & see if it makes a difference.

    Personally, I don’t see it as a problem how many wives he has if he can provide for them; the problem is, if he is imprudent about HIV/AIDS and the example he gives. And the current issue of the Merc;

  4. La Quebecoise La Quebecoise 21 May 2009

    @Phillipa Lipinski; I will certainly try to improve the quality of my work, abnd I thank you for the feedback;

    Two points, Mr Trapido posits in his column that Helen Zille needs to pay attention to symbolism. Symbolism and ‘manners’ are particularly important, from the research I have done, among the societal values of black African societies; this is much more so than to some European/North Americans.

    I note the number of black African who are enraged at how impolite everyone is to President Zuma or Mugabe, regarding actions or words which are polite and quite proper in the European/North American context. If I have offended anyone by this, I am truly sorry; this is a work in progress, and I just try to sort out the impediments to communication. In effect, I am a management consultant trying to figure out how to effect change & communications seems to be the only area we haven’t tried yet.

    It surprises me, as an aside, the degree of hatred which appears in these posts. Instead of saying ‘you’re wrong’ or “I think differently’, you personally accuse me of racism. I find it quite as remarkable as I find the horrific, filth which spews from Julius Malema, and the rest of the troops at the ANCYL and COSATU towards Helen Zille.

    but again, thank you for drawing my attention to the need to bump up my work.

  5. Siphiwo Siphiwo Siphiwo Siphiwo 21 May 2009

    the fact of the matter is that hellen zille has stuffed up… finish ‘n klaar.

    you can put more spin into it, but it wont change the price of a loaf of bread.

  6. japes japes 21 May 2009

    I sense this has very little to do with the race and gender of Zille’s picks but the start of the sort of hysterical opposition that ZANU PF presented when the MDC started to gain ground in Zim. Serial racists like Dave Harris and Philipa; all aboard the aprtheid express.

    Politics is a dirty business.

  7. Jon Jon 21 May 2009

    Dave Harris, Ms Zille has explicitly told the world that she chose her PROVINCIAL cabinet (not a “country club” one, whatever that is) on nothing but merit from those on offer. So that is how you know it’s a merit cabinet. Quite simple, really.

    Now if you had been elected by the voters to lead the Western Cape provincial government and YOU chose your cabinet strictly on merit, you might well have chosen differently. That would be your prerogative, just as Zille’s choice is hers.

    The only problem is that you did NOT win any election, so you have no prerogative at all.

    Noblesse oblige.

  8. Peter Win Peter Win 22 May 2009

    Dave Harris,
    What proof do you have that Zuma picked his Cabinet on merit – and not for some less worthy cause ?

    And what about the ANC naming Committee Chairs without a concept of merit ?

    Name both or name neither – or admit personal bias…

  9. ian ian 22 May 2009

    @ Phillipa – how exactly does one travel to work in a donkey? Can’t be very pleasant for either donkey or passenger.
    Danville – 300 years of slavery? Not sure what history book you’ve read, but suggest you bin it and get one that is slightly more accurate.
    Dave Harris et al who are harping on about the make up of the cabinet – have you taken the time to look at the provincial list HZ could choose from?
    Whilst on the subject of lists – I can’t help but notice that the Chairs of parlimentary committees (what use they serve i’ll never know) are rather devoid of pale males, coloured or indian males. Lets have your opinion on why this is ok shall we? Is it demographically correct?

  10. ian ian 22 May 2009

    “this university is not for blacks” sounds pretty racist, but then you need to know the context in which it was said. E.g. if the sentence preceeding it was ‘The way university fees are so high it appears as if…’. That would be food for thought i guess. But given that Zille didn’t actually say that in the first place its a bit redundant.
    Hop in your donkey to the Jamie library and check out the old copy of Varsity and the apology on the misquote.

  11. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 22 May 2009


    UCT students are not exactly a reliable source. You have to quote WHERE and WHEN Helen Zille is alleged to have said that. It is highly unlikely – she was Black Sash during the apartheid years and UCT was one of the places they demonstrated AGAINST UCT being only for whites.

    Do you mind telling us on which post you were “the first” to mention Helen Zille and Steve Biko?


    Helen Zille has never been rich. She is Middle Class and all she has she earned herself. She even still lives in a very ordinary house – which is now a great hassle because her position means security is delegated to her and there is no space for them! Not even enough loos!

    Also there was never any slavery in SA of indigeneous peoples. Since black and white only really met in numbers after the 1830s and the Great Trek – how could there be? Slavery had long been abolished (except in America).


    Margaret Thatcher saved Britain from bankruptcy. Their welfare policies had become unafforable, because super tax meaned all the productive job creators left. At the time Ireland capitalised on that by creating a tax haven for certain types of people.

    Dave Harris

    Everyone who wants to be on a DA list is evaluated – so their skills are known in advance.

    Now you tell me – on what basis does Zuma choose his cabinet?

    No-one is saying Zuma is evil but that he is a womaniser, like Zille said.

  12. Frank Nnete Frank Nnete 22 May 2009

    Maybe a little harsh Phillipa, but agreed, Mundundu’s invectives are getting tiresome.

    @ kit,

    My sense is that HZ (or any woman for that matter) can’t be sexist, because, as evinced by MKVA/ANCYL comments, she can still be a victim of sexism herself. I dont think the system of partriarcy allows for some sort of interlocutory mean between offender & offended-you’re either in the stands or on the field. I apply the same conceptual framework for racism.

  13. Andile Andile 22 May 2009

    Zille completely lost the plot, this is the time to show political maturity, swart gavaar aka stop Zuma, might have been tolerated before election where each party throw every available insult, deminise the opposition with the aim of garning more votes. Howver balrely week after inauguration,instead of defending your position. You claim that cant be questioned bcoz Zuma is sexist. Would it mean that gender isssues wont be entertained in WC coz Zuma is a sexist. That shows political maturity on Zille’s side and Ryan Cotzee needs to review their strategy. There is difference being opposition vs leader. it easy to blame everything as a spectator and hulr insult when things comes to you. Zille may have not been a racist before…Ngcuka and Maduna including Tm were great struggle heroes but they conduct post 99 showed otherwise.

    South ASfrican democracy do need opposition. We need patriotic opposition. I still doubt Zille committmernt to prosperous RSA, she German or Jew..which ever. She is South African by citizen ship just like Zim kids born in Hillbrow few years back by Zim parents! I heard Trolip saying Zuma is fallible but a warm RSAcan, unlike Zille a 2/3rd German.

    It time for Zille o rise up and stop drowing her paerty to Malema’s Youth League. At this rate Idont imgine Zille being statewoman for ALL South Africans.

  14. Phillipa Lipinsky Phillipa Lipinsky 22 May 2009

    @Lyndall: “Do you mind telling us on which post you were “the first” to mention Helen Zille and Steve Biko?”
    Do you really have that short a memory? In that post (one of Avishkar Govender’s posts, I seemed to be the only one who knew that about Zille and I took the trouble to inform everyone else, after which Avishkar wrote another article, calling Zille a “black journalist”, thanks to my information.
    In that post YOU even said (to another blog responded): “maybe Phillipa is right [about Zille], in those days it was dangerous for black journalists to go into townships…they were killed like flies [so Zille went]”. Then ofcourse you probably went to verify MY claim on google and now you have forgotten that you,and Mike and everyone else ar indebted to me for that info. Browse Avishlar’s blogs, you’ll find what I’m saying. I remember it because I have a photographic memory but I don’t have the time to check out the blogs.

  15. Phillipa Lipinsky Phillipa Lipinsky 22 May 2009

    @Mundundu: I really don’t understand your hostility towards me. It shows that you are not mature enough to engage a person principally on the basis of what their argument is about. I cannot understand how you can insult my husband [whom you don’t even know] simply because you disagree with me.
    It is also very racist of you to compare me to Anne Pout (aka Anne Matonga) simply because she’s married to a black man. It betrays your narrow-mindedness. That is not to mention that she’s a working-class British landgraber who benefited immensely from Mugabe’s government by chasing whites out of their farms. Comparing me to this militant anti-white racist who hates her own whiteness (as it seems) is the lowest degree of racism on this site.
    I won’t even comment on the silly remark you are making about my mother country, Rzeczpospolita Polska, because you have clearly never been there.
    You and I are basically foreigners here so I don’t see why you are being hostile toward me, when we have so much in common.

    But really there is a lot of racism against blacks in this site. I’m not saying that blacks aren’t racist. I’ve seen a lot of racist blacks but they [like you] are usually racist against other blacks.

  16. Kristi Maria Kristi Maria 22 May 2009

    Stuart, what do you mean incontestable? And isn’t debate a lot like drama anyway?

  17. Dave Harris Dave Harris 22 May 2009

    You obviously see nothing wrong in they way you hurl meaningless insults in a sign of desperation. As I said in another blog, you seriously need help.
    Btw. This blog is ALL about the gender makeup of the DA’s COUNTRY CLUB CABINET (old white priveleged males) that demonstrates Zille’s short-term thinking and her disregard of our constitution.

    @Jon, Ian, Peter Win et al
    Its simple really, it you claim Zille chose her cabinet on merit then you better be ready to provide PROOF of this merit based selection process.

    The process has to do with the checks and balances in the ENTIRE hiring process to ensure candidates are picked fairly and judged on merit.

    Boston is in the US where whites are in the overwhelming majority whereas Cape Town is in SA where blacks are in the overwhelming majority. Does the racial polarization of CT still make sense to you?

    @Lyndall Beddy
    I’m tired of trying to engage with you using basic logic. Sorry :-(

  18. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 22 May 2009


    You are so right! 18 children IS totally irresponsible – especially when they are by 7 different women!

    And Helen has hit back HARD! Way overdue that Zuma’s double standards were put to the light. We have the most cases of AIDS in the world, the highest crime rate (outside a war zone), and we are the worst abusers of woman and children.

    And it starts with patriarchy – like Zuma practices.

    It would have been very stupid of Helen to leave this debate unaired – there is 5 years till the next election for provinces, and a week is a long time in politics!

  19. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 22 May 2009


    If you have a photographic memory you can remember which post.

    My husdand also used to have one – explains a lot – he could coast at school and hit a cropper at Varsity when he had to analyse and not just regurgitate!

  20. anton kleinschmidt anton kleinschmidt 22 May 2009

    @ Dave Harris….you say

    “Cape Town is in SA where blacks are in the overwhelming majority.”

    I am happy to treat this at face value as it suggests that enough of this “overwhelming majority” voted for the DA making it possible for them to win the provincial election enabling them to decide on how the province should be run. Are you unhappy with the expressed will of this particular majority given that it exemplifies one of the basic tenets of democracy?

  21. japes japes 22 May 2009


    Don’t take yourself too seriously; particularly considering your brand of ostensibly politically correctness but to me, blinkered bigotry. I find it good only for a sad chuckle. Stand back and look at the big picture. Do you want ability or demographics for service delivery? Did you ever answer my query about selecting a surgeon by ability or by race and gender?

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