Opinionista Onkgopotse JJ Tabane 22 April 2013

Dear Premier Helen Zille, let’s talk frankly…

Maybe all the missteps in Helen Zille’s term of office in the Western Cape are merely PR gaffes, like any politician is allowed to make. But, in the wake of the refugee scandal, the open-toilet fiasco and the closure of schools, instead of focussing on the tasks at hand, the Western Cape premier wants to rewrite history and cast the DA in a starring role as a revolutionary organisation that fought tooth and nail for our liberation. Zille is fighting for a better past when the party has so many more important matters on its plate.

Dear Premier Helen Zille,

You are a formidable politician. Since ascending to the position of leader of the official opposition and premier of the Western Cape you have outshone any other leader that has made an attempt at both responsibilities. You have made your mark, whether one agrees with you or not. You have grown the Democratic Alliance into an undisputed pain in the side of the ruling party. You stamped your authority all right, even making sure someone who was, only a few years ago, an intern in your office became leader of your party in Parliament. You have excelled in high political manoeuvre and you are unrivalled in your party, totally erasing your predecessor’s “fight black” legacy and most recently even literally erasing him from the DA’s latter-day timeline. A sign of the times.

Only a through-and-through politician can manage such amnesia. Politicians don’t remember much these days as we have seen. Despite your usually high standards we have seen that even you are only human – forgetting who sponsored your breakfast recently and also your dinner apparently, although you eventually remembered the outstanding taste of the dinner at the Guptas’ compound and all the donations that went with it. Who would have thought that the official opposition could share funders with the ruling party? You do have the knack for breaking new ground! But then this is politics and all politics is a stage where politicians “like shadows”, like you, “strut and fret their hour upon the stage and are soon to be heard no more… full of sound and fury… signifying nothing” if you would let me steal from Shakespeare.

What are we to make, dear premier, of your recent tendencies to be a chameleon that chooses to change colour depending of who or what is next to it. One minute you lambast the Guptas for being funders of the ANC, the next minute you eat their dinner and breakfast because you think no one is watching. And then you claim to have forgotten. What are we to make of your Pinocchio moments in appointing service providers in the Western Province and the uncharacteristic meddling in the appointment of a communications agency in your province? What should we make of your recent closure of schools in your province in the face of so many children in the province being denied access to schools? Did you really need the court to tell you that the closure of these schools is not in the interests of the children? What has happened to the young activist journalist at the Rand Daily Mail who, while benefiting from the white privileges afforded to her then, and while not sharing fish and chips with her black counterparts out on the stoep, was nevertheless conscious enough to be considered an enemy of the state?

Would that activist have been so against black economic empowerment that black companies and people would feel so unwelcome in your province. Would that activist have allowed herself to classify fellow citizens as refugees and spend weeks defending this heresy and only withdrawing it when there was no choice in the face of public and private outrage? Would she be so deeply in denial about racism in her backyard?

Premier, maybe all these missteps in your term of office in the Western Cape are merely PR gaffes like any politician is allowed to make. But, Madam, you are exceeding your quota fast. I thought with the refugee scandal, the open-toilet  fiasco and the rat-bite and so on you would consider the PR plate full, but no…

Now you want to rewrite history with the DA featuring as a revolutionary organisation that fought tooth and nail for our liberation.

You want people to “know the DA differently”. But in your script the association with the National Party, despite its treacherous history of oppressing our people, is sidestepped and you pretend to be surprised that many black South Africans think you want to bring back Apartheid. Well no wonder…

You don’t tell those who are encountering you afresh that the “alliance” in your name has its roots in collusion with the party responsible for implementing the architecture of Hendrik Verwoerd’s Apartheid. You wouldn’t show pictures of Helen Suzman meeting with Verwoerd, now would you, or Tony Leon meeting with Kortbroek? Because if your association with Suzman as a predecessor whose legacy can now be exploited for sweet electoral victory, then your latter-day association and alliance with the National Party paints you as a successor of these unpalatable characters and other white males whose mission was to prop up Apartheid. In life you have to take the good with the bad. But quite frankly, Madam, throwing an ailing Mandela into the mix is only making things worse for you as a political chameleon.

But that is not all. One of your most dynamic leaders, who sold his post-political soul by promoting the country as ambassador in Argentina, was written out of your script… virtually… probably to avoid people who are ignorant not coming across his “fight black” antics. You skip Verwoerd, you skip Kortbroek and now you skip Leon so that your party is squeaky clean. All so that the DA can project itself as rubbing shoulders with Mandela. This is cheap. This is an attempt to rewrite history. The party that was predecessor to the DA sat in a parliament that excluded Africans. In that parliament decisions to buy arms from all over the world to kill our people were blessed. Remember that. Allow people to remember that you were not as revolutionary as the Mandela you are now usurping. Tell people also that this Suzman was no angel as she stood opposing grants to liberation movements from the World Council of Churches, among many controversial decisions she backed during her active years. So much for playing your part in opposing Apartheid.

With Mandela in and out of hospital this must be the most shameful thing to do. Hopefully you have asked the Mandela family for permission to this misleading picture. Mandela’s daughters are on the prowl and may well be after you soon. Lots of people are exploiting the Mandela name from all walks of life. You have joined this charade with a straight face. How do you sleep at night with this attempt to pull the wool over our people’s eyes? How can you embark on such an embarrassing exercise of fighting for a better past using the icon of our people?

In 2009 you said that the ANC must stop relying on its struggle credentials. What has since changed about people not referring to history but to the present in choosing parties to govern? Or have you since discovered that it did not work out?

But this goose and gander politics is not new to you when we take into account the all-male cabinet you appointed in 2009, claiming that of the entire 51% of people who voted for you in the Western Cape, there are no women capable of ascending to the provincial cabinet.

Many people who thought you had potential to lead this country to a new politics of honesty have now found you to be a total letdown. From the corruption of appointing an agency illegally and extending its contracts, to allowing your politically-appointed adviser to sit in on a process best left to bureaucrats, to accepting money from funders you have lambasted in the past and then pretending not to remember and to arrogantly labelling fellow South Africans as refugees you have proved that, like any other politician, you are not to be trusted. Not really.

I suppose with all this out there, it is now to the gutter as 2014 beckons.

Yours frankly,

Onkgopotse JJ Tabane DM


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