Friday, June 17, 2011

Let's Give It Up For Hellen Zille!

by ralph geeplay

Premier Zille hits the streets to campaign

"Have you ever seen an ugly [white] woman in a blue dress dancing like a monkey because she is looking for votes"? Julius Malema, the contentious African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) leader taunted in May as the South African municipal elections were heating up.

Malema's apparent reference was meant for the country’s most colorful opposition leader Helen Zille, who challenged the African National Congress (ANC) to a fierce political battle, which exacted a blow to the ruling party. As the election dust now settles, it was all evident that the country is headed towards a two party system; and the goad Malema threw at Zille it seems was rejected by voters with the black votes streaming steadily towards the Democratic Alliance.

Racial politics aside, some black South Africans are beginning to understand that stoic allegiance to the ANC even when it fails to delivered on campaign promises will not move the country forward. What South Africans want is service delivery, the rejection of cronyism, and an improvement in their lives, promises on which the Democratic Alliance campaigned. The African National Congress however, ran a negative campaign labeling Zille a racist, which the South African people did not buy

dominance of the African National Congress is still palpable in South Africa, a clear manifestation of the nation's struggle to end Apartheid. The ANC has led for 17 years, and it’s polices are increasingly coming under the microscope. Blacks are beginning to feel that their concerns have been ignored. An example is the Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) route, introduced by the party, meant to address long standing inequalities towards minorities, which has all but enriched a few black elites analysts say, with the majority of the population not seeing the dividends promised again and again by the leaders on whom they have hedged their bets every election circle.

To its credit the ANC has invested millions in infrastructure; but senior government officials are using their incredible connections to amass vast wealth at the expense of the public. Charges of corruption, the lack of jobs and service delivery has tainted the image of the ANC for which its members are paying a political prize at the polls. According to Bloomberg, Africa’s largest economy shed 14,000 jobs in the first quarter of 2011.
During the 2006 elections, the ANC won 67 percent of the vote; and during these past municipal elections it won 60 percent. The Democratic Alliance, meanwhile has surged winning about 23 percent, whereas in 2006, it won a paltry 14 percent. The Democratic Alliance owes this increase to major stumbles by the ANC.

A cartoon of Malema by Zapiro

These developments are significant because South Africa is still a racially-based democracy and for the right reasons. But it is also amazing to a degree that the main opposition leader is a white woman.
Helen Zille is not new to South African politics. While working as a journalist for the Rand Daily Mail in the late 1970s, Zille, together with the venerable Donald Woods, famously exposed the brutal and fatal death by the then-racist South African government of the Black Consciousness leader Steve Biko.
In 2008, when she received the world mayor's award from a field of 820 candidates while serving as Mayor of Cape Town, Zille called on the nation to rally around the differences that would make South Africa work… telling the audience gathered at the ceremony that “political diversity, in other words, is not an obstacle to a better life.” She said further, “It is, in fact, the only way to guarantee it.” A year later she went on to win the premiership of the

Western Cape Province, the first major power grab from the ANC.
However, without Zille's leadership it a safe bet that South African democracy would still be asleep, because the ANC has all but taken the black votes for granted. Even the high-profile creation in 2008 of this opposition party: the Congress of The People (COPE) has all but flopped. The high-profile Cope sprouted to provide a challenge to the ANC, in the wake of the power struggle that drove Thabo Mbeki from power. What has happened is continued infighting within the rank and file of the ANC, the same scenario that gave rise to COPE's conception. Zille, on the other hand has been discipline, letting the record of the Democratic Alliance to do the talking.

Of course, the Democratic Alliance has its tradition steep in white South African liberalism, and its major challenge remains diversifying its leadership and core membership by luring in black and color voters. It hasn’t been easy because of recent South African history, but the tide is turning. Zille has recognized this fact knowing fully well that without blacks’ participation, the DA is doom.

Because the DA has given the African National Congress a run for its money, it is believed the ANC is likely to address the needs of the people and continue the legacy of Nelson Mandela. Meanwhile, smaller political parties are gravitating towards the Democratic Alliance. And if the ruling party fails and continues its same old polices, the ANC will have no one to blame but itself when the next elections rolls around.
It is accurate to say that when competitive political engagements are centered on issues rather than race and personalities the people are well served by politicians. It is a lesson neighboring Zimbabwe could learn from. Let’s give it up for Helen Zille!

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