South Africa


Helen Zille unplugged: DA is neither racist nor arrogant

Helen Zille unplugged: DA is neither racist nor arrogant
Democratic Alliance Federal Council Chair Helen Zille. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

The ANC has placed its renewal agenda at the forefront as it prepares to elect new leadership at the end of the year. However, DA Federal Council Chair Helen Zille believes there is no hope for the once revered governing party to redeem itself — regardless of who it chooses to elect at its national conference.

In a one-on-one with this reporter, DA Federal Council Chair Helen Zille has described the ANC as being in “terminal decline”, stressing that not even bringing in younger leadership can rescue the party.

“The ANC cannot be saved and South Africa cannot be saved by the ANC. That is why I spend all of my time building the only alternative to save SA, which is the DA. [The ANC] will be around for a long time, but it is in terminal decline and it does not matter who takes over.

“It has nothing to do with generational mix in the leadership, it has got everything to do with whether you can build strong, functional, internal institutions that work, and the ANC cannot do that,” she said.

Zille recalled when the DA took over the reins in the Western Cape and Cape Town, saying she had inherited damaged governments from the ANC.

“If you inherit a government from the ANC it is very broken. I inherited Cape Town and Western Cape from them and the ANC is broken to the core and it takes years of fixing things before you see a difference,” she said.

The ANC will hold its elective conference in December when Cyril Ramaphosa will contest for a second term as party leader. The likes of Cooperative Governance Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu and disgraced former health minister Zweli Mkhize are looking to replace him.

‘If they want to leave the DA, they must go’

The DA has faced its own woes, including key black leaders leaving the party — dubbed Blaxit. Zille is unbothered by this.

In 2019, the then party leader Mmusi Maimane, and then Johannesburg mayor (now ActionSA leader) Herman Mashaba tendered their resignations.

Recently, a DA member of the Gauteng legislature, Makashule Gana, and the former DA leader in the Free State, Patricia Kopane, also bowed out of the party.

“There has been a mass exodus from ActionSA, so why is there only a narrative about the DA? The DA has lost the least members of any party. If people do not want to be with us then they should go where they want to go. We want to build with people who want to be with us,” Zille said.

helen zille da

DA Federal Council Chair Helen Zille says the DA has lost the least members of any party. (Photo: Gallo Images/Jaco Marais)

“After the elections in 2019, Mmusi convened an analysis report investigation into why we had lost votes. That investigation said the reason we had lost votes was primarily because of his weak leadership, and that is why he left.

“We have not only stabilised, we have grown. So there is no party that does introspection like the DA does. Mmusi did not resign and then it triggered an introspection, he resigned as a result of introspection he organised and what that introspection found,” she said.

At the time of his leaving, Maimane said: “There have been several months of consistent and coordinated attacks on me and my leadership to ensure that this project failed, or I failed.”

Zille recently compiled a list of black representatives on her Facebook page, who continue to serve the official opposition as she tries to prove the DA is not facing a major crisis. This was, however, not received well by some social media users.

“There are 451 or 452 black public representatives, which is hard to tally because the DA does not classify people by race. So if you lose four or five [black public representatives] over a five-year period it’s nothing, because you would have gained at least 20 or 25, so the number of people joining the DA and becoming councillors is much greater than those who left,” she said.   

Unravelling coalitions 

Another sore point for the DA has been its shaky coalition in the City of Joburg where its councillor Vasco da Gama was deposed as Speaker. Executive Mayor Mpho Phalatse could be next as she faces a motion of no confidence. And recent discussions between the ANC and EFF could result in the DA losing power in a number of municipalities.

Opposition parties and even those aligned with the DA have complained about how it manages the coalitions and have accused the party of mistreating smaller parties. Some have called the DA “arrogant”.

zille coalitions

Zille says voters give the DA a big challenge when they make it put together a nine-party coalition. (Photo: Gallo Images / Jaco Marais)

“There is a joint caucus where all the major decisions are discussed and there are systems and structures for a lot of consultation, but [the City of Johannesburg] is a nine-party coalition and undoubtedly several one-person parties or two-person parties or parties who have more may feel that they do not have a veto right, but you need to be able to govern as well. The voters give us a big challenge when they make us put together a nine-party coalition. It is difficult, but we are giving our all,” said Zille.

Read more in Daily Maverick: “Was Zuma right that the ANC will rule forever or can the opposition parties get it together to form a coalition government in 2024?

“There are two standard terms used to describe the DA; one is ‘racist’, which is completely wrong because we are the only absolutely inclusive party. The second one which is fundamentally wrong is to call us ‘arrogant’. We have principles and policies and we apply those principles where we govern. Therefore we govern better, things are better where the DA governs,” Zille said.

She reiterated that none of the agreements relating to coalitions was forced.

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“These things are negotiated and not imposed and we negotiated for weeks and weeks after the election last year in November. There was a lot of give and take and afterwards everyone signed, everybody seemed quite happy with it. 

“We believe that after the next election, there will either be a coalition with the DA as the anchor, or on the other side, the ANC will be the anchor. So, the DA is going to go into this election trying to build a strong and stable foundation on which to build an opposition coalition.

“We have learnt from 2016 that you do not go into a coalition without an agreement and we will definitely continue with the written agreements if we go into any coalitions in 2024,” said Zille.

Read more in Daily Maverick: “Burnt fingers: DA leader open to coalitions – just not with the EFF 

The DA’s Federal Executive has decided the party will not enter coalitions with the EFF. 

“It is based on the fact that we are polar opposite parties. We stand for totally different visions. We are completely incompatible parties in our values and principles. Coalitions are difficult to run, we respect the voice of the voters’ choice. They have a right to vote for whoever they want, but if they vote for a range of parties they will have to understand that we will govern through coalitions. We are not going to be entering into any power-sharing agreements with the EFF,” she emphasised. 

John Steenhuisen’s ‘roadkill’ comments 

Zille would not be drawn on whether DA leader John Steenhuisen referring to his ex-wife as “roadkill” had been a bone of contention in the party’s higher structures, saying only that the party could not take social media outrage seriously.

zille steenhuisen

On the outrage at DA leader John Steenhuisen’s ‘roadkill’ comment, Zille says Twitter is not a voters’ roll. (Photo: Leila Dougan)

“People are always searching for something to be offended about and we cannot possibly base our actions and decisions on social media. They get it wrong 90% of the time and Twitter is not the voters’ roll,” she insisted.

Read more in Daily Maverick: “ ‘Roadkill’ rage: ‘Steenhuisen says his remark was just a ‘bad joke’, but activists accuse him of ‘misogyny’ and ‘hypocrisy’ ”  

Zille believes Steenhuisen is the right person to lead the party to the 2024 elections and maintains it will be up to delegates at the party’s 2023 congress to decide whether they want him to continue at the helm.

“People say things and there is a debate about what they say; some agree, some people disagree. We will have a congress next year and every DA member will be able to elect delegates for the congress so that we can elect a leader. That is how we work things out in the DA as far as leadership is concerned.

“Look how much he has taken the DA forward up until now. He has stabilised the party and he has grown and that is the big test. So, it is not up to me who is going to lead the DA. I will be up for election as well. We are a party that actually holds elections and no one buys votes, no one bribes anybody, no one has a death threat against them, no intimidation,” she said. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • virginia crawford says:

    “People are always searching for something to be offended by,” What an arrogant and dismissive remark. I don’t do Twitter etc, and I most certainly don’t want to be offended. So comments like this make me laugh and furious. How do you reason with someone like this? I have voted for the DA as an anti-ANC vote, but I didnt want to. The ruling party has been incompetent, corrupt and chaotic for over a decade, so Ms Zille’ s ‘ we have made no mistakes, we are the best ‘ song does not explain why they have not garnered more support. But her tone deaf comments do.

    • Malcolm McManus says:

      There is merit in this comment. We have so many varying “human rights” organizations these days who spend their lives looking for opportunities to be offended so they can make a statement and market their opinions on various social media platforms. I also don’t do facebook or twitter because I avoid all the rubbish. The DA is not without its faults but it is certainly one of our best hopes for a brighter future at the moment. Helen Zille’s worst enemy is twitter, much like Donald Trump. The world dos not take kindly to blatant truths. The reason they have not garnered more supports is because they are perceived to be a white party and most of the countries voters vote based on race.

    • William Stucke says:

      >What an arrogant and dismissive remark

      Nonsense! Simply plug the phrase into Google and you will see a wealth of articles, and serious research, on “People are always searching for something to be offended by”. It seems that it’s mostly due to dissonance between the offended one’s expectations and what they perceived someone to have said or done.

      There are also a number of other reasons why some people seem to be more easily offended than others, such as anxiety, insecurity, etc.

      However, IMHO, I think that there are an awful lot of people who spend way too much time on various forms of social media. These platforms are highly monetised and employ many very clever people to create algorithms that select what you will be shown (mostly passively) in your “feed”. A surefire way of “tuning” your personal algorithm is to respond to posts by others. This can be dangerous, insofar as it leads to confirmation bias – you only see views that you agree with. Alternatively, it can lead to you seeing views that you do not agree with – things that can offend you, especially if you are lacking in empathy, patience, or the willingness to see another person’s point of view.

      If the bulk of what you see confirms your biases – whether or not they are grounded in reality – and you then see something that doesn’t conform to your expectations, it’s quite easy to be “offended”.

      HTH 😉

      • Charles Young says:

        With or without social media, Steenhuisen’s roadkill comment was both crass and stupid. The public response was predictable. The damage to the DA was avoidable. Party leaders who think otherwise are out of touch.

  • John Pearse says:

    We bemoan the lack of strong honest leaders but HZ ticks both those boxes. Love her or hate her, she still has the best political achievement track record as witnessed in the Western Cape and she remains the master strategist in our politics particularly when putting together coalitions that produce results. Time to get off her back and support a party that sticks to its principals and produces results

  • Willem Boshoff says:

    Look at the semigration to the Western Cape – not only by rich people, but also people looking for jobs – and you have your answer as to who can actually run the country. Small parties are OK but it takes massive organisational skills and competence to run a city, a province or a country. Rhetoric and PC-talk is just marketing. The DA certainly has shot itself in the foot on many occasions, but the media is also to blame for trying to balance their coverage of the immeasurable rot and dishonesty in the ANC and EFF by attacking the DA far more than what is warranted. The electorate’s obsession with race is also costing them dearly, as the “whiteness” slur sticks and everything else crumbles.

  • andrew farrer says:

    “People are always searching for something to be offended by,” – Especially on social media, and more specifically your “activists” (people without meaningful jobs who just stir the pot). Just look at the “roadkill” saga. JS makes a comment about his ex, and suddenly it’s attributed to all women and he’s a misogynist and hypocrite (according to these activists), and according to some humanitarian accademic, he wants her dead!!!???
    FFSakes his remark’s directed at ONE particular individual and any normal person not looking for SM likes/ retweets would interpret the comment that his ex/ relationship with said ex was a disaster.
    People need to stop being so sensitive, not everything’s about you.

    • Charles Young says:

      We know little about his relationship with the “said ex”, apart from the fact that Steenhuisen was unfaithful and is now willing to make public remarks at her expense. Unlike Steenhuisen, she does not have a public platform to defend herself. His comment might say something about their relationship, but it most certainly says something about him.

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