My biggest mistake in DA was to contribute in promoting Black leadership in DA and propelling both Mmusi Maimane and other Black provincial DA leaders to the echelons of power within DA. By doing so I lead DA to the trap of racial politics and promotion of skin colour over skill and talent.

In the cut-and-thrust of politics, especially in the run-up to an election, politicians constantly talk about their past successes and future plans.

For years, I have wanted to write a series of articles about my mistakes and failures. I am, at last, free to do so.

It has been an interesting exercise, working through documents drawn from almost 15 years in executive office, trying to decide which of my many flops to analyse.

But today I begin this series by analyzing what I perceive as my greatest failure as DA leader because it is the one that causes me the most anguish. It is difficult to analyse honestly, because I have to face a self-initiated betrayal of my life-long dedication to constitutionalism, non-racialism, and a culture of personal responsibility.

To make things easier for myself, let me first summarise the narrative on the “positives” of my leadership term: the DA more than doubled its vote in ten years, to over 4 million. We made the crucial transition from being a party of opposition to becoming a party of government. We demonstrated we could govern well. And where we achieved this, we established a lasting shift in voter patterns.

However, my greatest failure, by far, is that I did not fight hard enough to prevent the DA from entering the ANC/EFF’s “race narrative” arena. What’s more, I actually sometimes facilitated our entry and (even worse) proceeded to play their game.

It was a game we should never have engaged because it was impossible to compete, and undesirable to win. The rules of this game meant that winning would strip us of one of our primary reasons for existence — to promote genuine and inclusive non-racialism.

That has never been the ANC’s objective, and no-one should be fooled into believing it is (or ever was) beyond the symbolism projected by former President Nelson Mandela. This much was already evident to me in my political involvement 30 years ago. Rarely in history has there been such a disjuncture between the personality of a President and the reality of the organization he led.

I am aware how risky it is to write about this particular failure of mine in the current climate because my words are almost guaranteed to be willfully misinterpreted and manipulated.

One of the reasons for this is that the ANC has successfully consolidated a huge weight of public opinion (particularly among political commentators) behind the idea that the pursuit of racial representivity, as an end in itself, is a noble goal.

This inevitably means prioritizing a person’s immutable biological characteristics above other attributes necessary for value and accomplishment. Among the many morbid consequences of this approach is that it inexorably degenerates into a smokescreen for cronyism, corruption and the criminal, captured state.

So how, exactly, did I set off down the treacherous path of trying to satisfy our ANC opponents on the issue of race?

It started with the conscious pursuit of diversity, which I still strongly believe is a noble goal in and of itself. It is essential in a country like ours, and increasingly world-wide.

Diversity is very different from representivity in that it does not seek to reflect the precise demographic composition of society in the make-up of an organization. It requires genuine opportunities and real support for people from all backgrounds, with the talent and commitment and work-ethic required to progress in life.

Representivity, on the other hand, pays little attention to broadening opportunities. It focuses primarily on manipulating outcomes to reflect society’s racial demography. This inevitably requires quotas that make genetic, biological characteristics an impervious career barrier (for some), or a runway for others, irrespective of their other attributes.

This is an approach which the DA has always rejected entirely (and I believe still does).

But the critical nuances of this debate are lost when you are playing against a dominant team whose aim is total racial hegemony, and whose race narrative is established as the moral yardstick in much of society at large.

Let me be clear: when I became leader, it was crucial to diversify the DA, and to change its style. We had to cross boundaries in our complex, divided society and convince South Africans that the DA’s policies and principles would provide the best foundation for successful governance in the interests of all, especially the poor.

But I hadn’t anticipated one crucial unintended consequence: the more I worked to diversify the DA, and the more successful the party became, the more our opponents accused us of being a “white party” (with the backing of the usual media chorus).

Eventually, I concluded that, if the party was led by a black person, and backed by a significant majority of elected black provincial leaders, we would finally rid ourselves of this tag.

And it would become far easier to cross remaining barriers into new voting communities, while remaining true to our principles.

I was wrong. The more diverse we became, the more stridently our opponents resorted to the race card. They had nothing else.

Trying to win this argument is, as Tony Leon once said, like feeding steaks to a crocodile in the hope that it will become vegetarian.

By the time I stepped down, we were well and truly into the game that I can only blame myself for initiating (even if there were important and valid reasons for doing so).

Let me emphasise that this self-criticism is not intended as a negative reflection on any of the DA’s black leaders. The ANC would have continued to escalate the race rhetoric even if they had been able to walk on water.

So when the ANC and its fellow-travelers continued describing them as Zille’s “puppets”, the strategic logic I had initiated inside the DA’s inner circle moved to the next logical step, encouraged by advice from an American “expert” (straight from the world capital of identity politics).

The DA election strategists (ironically most of them white) concluded that if they could crush me publicly, we would truly, at last, lose our “white-party” image. This is not a conspiracy theory. I have a document that was circulated to the Federal Executive, explaining it.

The immediate “casus belli” was a statement I made, in a series of tweeted observations on my Lessons from Singapore, that the LEGACY of colonialism was not ONLY negative. This has been said scores of times before, by black South African leaders including Nelson Mandela, and appears in many post-apartheid history textbooks authored by black historians. It is a statement backed by almost every respected historian in the world.

But because it caused offence to our political opponents (most of them elite, university educated devotees of identity politics who would never vote for us anyway), the DA seized on the chance to further “purify” the party.

I was suspended, and when this still didn’t work, they tried to entice me to leave South Africa. The DA even found a donor to generously sponsor their strategy. If I disappeared, they reckoned, the party would at last be seen as “transformed”.

When I politely declined to resign as Premier and leave the country, I was banished from all party activities.

During the election campaign, when the polling started reflecting problems, the party approached me, through an intermediary, to request my assistance. I immediately agreed, and was duly trotted out in scores of meetings, events and interviews, across three provinces.

Unsurprisingly, as soon as the last ballot was counted, the party took their finger off the pause button of the “crush Zille” strategy.

I say this not to play the victim. I have only myself to blame. I was the one who saddled and mounted the Tiger. I thought we could manage it. When I dismounted it attacked me. What did I expect?

I can already hear the chorus of critics shouting that I only have myself to blame because of my Tweets. Here again, I disagree: my most recent tweets were precisely geared at exposing the fallacy of racial generalisations, and the double standards that lie behind the dominant narrative of identity politics (which involves laying sole blame on minorities, for the country’s problems).

I would have thought that my attack on hypocrisy and double-standards would have dove-tailed comfortably with the DA’s script. Liberalism 101. But I had again committed the ultimate sin of offending our opponents (whom it is our first duty to please).

I certainly have a lot to answer for. But not for the reasons most commentators think. And I intend to spend the rest of my career in the political domain seeking to make amends and being true to my belief in an inclusive form of non-racialism.

Helen Zille

The English version first appeared in politicsweb.

http://www.politicsweb.co.za

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Join the conversation! 28 Comments

  1. I am cofused bcos I always thot and compared u with Helen Suzman who fought against apertheid & so classified u with such who fought forequality of all who stay in SA. Even when u cömblned a while with Mampele-Rampele. ythe rise of Maimane to me was automatic and essential & he’s perfomed v well!!

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  2. So so racist. Who does she think she is, a supreme race…. She must just shut up as racist as she is. Who does she think she get the right from to decide how good or bad other humans are as she have the power to decide destiny

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  3. I’ve always had this question in the back of my mind, ”If you can choose 3 people dead or alive to have dinner with, who will it be? My one guest has been and always will be Helen Zille.
    I wish that every critic of yours, could walk a day in your shoes.
    I’m fascinated by your past present and future. I’ve never met a public figure with such a remarkable track record as yourself, being voted best mayor in the world and all, but still you remain humble. Publicly admit to your faults and not play the victim card.
    Your emotional maturity and intellectual way of thinking is far more advanced than most of South Africans, thus I believe the reason why people are incapable of understanding your point of view in your tweets and articles.
    The problem with the youth all around the world is the fact that they have no role model to follow. We’re smitten with Hollywood and celebrities who’s job it is to pretend to be someone else, we listen to music with no meaning, we admire art because of the name of the painter instead of the art piece itself. You have always been my role model and I thank you for standing up for what you believe in, fighting the injustice of the past and continuing this fight in the present. The world needs more role models like you…

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  4. Dear Helen, whatever you say and/or explain WILL be interpreted negatively. Not only because you are white, but because the lack of insight and knowledge prevent people from comprehending your words. Take care!

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    • Agreed

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    • Oksalayo she’s the worst kind of racist.. One that parades as a Liberal only to deceive the naive black people into believing that abelungu care about us.. But ke ushaye phansi kwashunq’ uthuli, sifundile nathi manje we can decode underlying messages.

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  5. Helen, it’s better late than never to swallow that red pill…. See the problem here is not and never was a ‘racial’ issue…it was an issue of culture and unfortunately NOTHING BY FORCE ever works… Diversity means respecting the RIGHT of peoples to join and interact with those whom they feel comfortable with, normally people of their own culture…RIGHT to associate and not forced integration… You are? were? an idealist…it’s time to put that hat down and put on the hat of a realist… Utopia will only arrive when the Messiah returns to earth, not one second before that. In the mean time, we need to understand that we can’t force people together who have nothing or very little in common…especially if their cultures are totally incompatible… We can however respect their RIGHT OF ASSOCIATION, and allow them to seek out their own groups and find their own comfort zones, without forcing ‘equalizing’ laws down their throats… All men are NOT equal, never was never will be, (to say that, denies the INDIVIDUALITY of every human being)….but all men deserve equal respect and the right to live and work where they feel comfortable. And it is the INDIVIDUALITY of a person which should dictate if he/she is fit for a job or to hold a position of power…not the colour of their skin…or the ethnic group they belong to.

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  6. Has anybody actually read the article? The introductory “quote” does not appear anywhere in the original article – so maybe Helen should just quietly ride off into the sunset. Everything she says will be misrepresented by those feeding the exact narrative she is (unsuccessfully) trying to expose

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  7. As Africans we are too tolerant – it’s our culture and maybe our downfall. Europeans came with racism and oppression. Africans are saying – let’s bury the hatchet, move on. Logic is suppose to tell you – you are receiving an opportunity of a life time, grab it with both hands but No- you guys are continuing to perpetuate what your ancerstors started. Instead of being apologetic and try correct all that happened, you continue with such arrogance.
    Some of us are getting tired, maybe it’s time we also start riding this horse of white arrogance and see where it takes us

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  8. Do we really need people like Hellen Zille in this world of today? She just manages to say everything wrong at the right time. Maybe she should have just taken the money and left for Israel, or the USA, whichever will suite her best. I see a nerve, mostly because she manages to get away with her loose narratives. It is getting disgusting now. Please show some maturity, you can really be better than that… And please leave the ANC out of your senseless game.

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  9. Helen, if u ill, the doc prescribes an ANTI-biotic, which fights the decease, not a NON-biotic, so if you really against racial segregation u should say I am an ANTI-RACIST…and come out strong and fight racism…!!!

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  10. Sick n tired of white monopoly n segregation of such an insult but on other hand she is right by showing of how is, to those who subotach us n decide to go for white organisation. White people they r pretending they never like us.

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  11. DA is showing their true identity and what they truly believe and stand for which is white supremacy while using coloureds and blacks for electoral support. Not surprising it is an outcome of the National Party and the Democratic party merger

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  12. Go back to Europe where you came from you witches and leave us in peace

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  13. Cdes don’t understand the article of Zille .She wrote this article because DA is not a national government and they didn’t take extra three province as they promised thier masters in Europe. It’s just last kick of the dying horse in particular that she is expected to answer to her committee too now she is throwing Mable’s all over. She never liked blacks from the start and I am not surprised by her attitude towards blacks Africans in particular.

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  14. Ke masepa hela mo South Africa neh. Haikhona

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  15. Ok im trying to figure out how does this headline relates to the narrative of the story. The headline seems to be malicious to the actual articles narrative and what’s actually being said. Misrepresenting it completely by making it out to seem as being racist in what she is ultimately saying or trying to say. Typical example of how words can become dangerous if the person who reads it does not understand or actually think about what they reading but focussing on a misleading headline to the whole story.

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  16. Dear Helen,

    I read the article and all the comments and am filled with mixed emotions…

    Firstly – I am able to get into your shoes, regarding your “confession.” I believe that nobody can argue with the lived experience of another person.

    Parts of the article and some of the comments make me sad though, because I see a white side and a black side and I see both sides pointing fingers to the other side. I feel like we are wasting so much time doing this, delaying the focus of all of us getting into the shoes of others. We are delaying talking about challenges in order to find solutions, we are delaying the healing that is needed for some black AND some white South Africans; delaying that focus on HOW we are going to take our country forward so that all the people who live here and who want to live here, can benefit.
    This makes me wonder WHO is making money from this kind of turmoil – us bickering back and forth?

    I am leaving a general comment, in response to some comments to your article and to this quote of yours in particular.
    I quote…

    “I can already hear the chorus of critics shouting that I only have myself to blame because of my Tweets. Here again, I disagree: my most recent tweets were precisely geared at exposing the fallacy of racial generalisations, and the double standards that lie behind the dominant narrative of identity politics (which involves laying sole blame on minorities, for the country’s problems)…”

    This (below) is what I have to say…and yes, I come in peace and in empathy…

    Helen, I understand your perspective, what you are feeling. Having said that, I also want to add that parts of your “confession” is painful to read – very much so.
    It makes me ask: “Will we ever get beyond this point?” – a white South African pointing out wrongs on the “other” side and then a black South African, responding, by pointing out wrongs on the OTHER “other” side?

    I am sad to realise that we are unfortunately STILL here, because many of us are STILL NOT getting it…that wrongs were committed on both black and white sides – politically and elsewhere.
    We are STILL NOT getting it that when we get into each other’s shoes, we’ll stand a good chance to truly get it and understand it; and hopefully we’ll be inspired to not just ask; “How are we going to fix this?”, but we’ll actively try to find solutions to contribute to our beautiful South Africa, to assist with building a country that will work for all of us – black and white… I pray.

    My heart breaks when I read some of the comments to your post, dear Helen (you are obviously not responsible for how people are commenting / responding – I know). – some comments seem to emphasize the “white superiority”-notion that actually brought us to this point.
    I do not see a workable solution in that, because such comments are filled with “us and them”; and worse – this group is better than that group.

    Indeed, wrongs were committed on both sides; and today I want to share this ( snippet of a personal experience) with those who seem to not be aware of it…about wrongs that were committed on both sides…

    My tv program-idea (IN JOU SKOENE) was stolen by Media 24’s tv channel – VIAtv and given to white South Africans to present and / or claim as theirs. The last two years, while dealing with this debacle, was not the first time that I had experienced how a group of white South Africans could stand together to protect a horrible lie.
    It was not the first time that I’d seen how such a group of white South Africans could continue with their lives – as if it was nothing – almost as if it is a case of, “when a black person suffers because of such a lie, it is completely okay…”
    (Of course there are black people who lie too – just in case somebody wants to respond to my comment, saying that)….

    With that point out of the way, here’s more about my story…

    Here is a link to my video on Youtube where I give more details. Underneath the video, is a link to my FB-page where I share some supporting documents.

    Have you heard about this story on some news platform? – like the story about the big company vs. Shannon in the baby carrier matter?; or like the socks-pattern of a small designer that was copied by a big fashion house and many others? No!

    Did I run around to ensure that that my experience could be considered as a news story too? Yes.

    I am not crying about being ignored; quite the contrary. This whole situation inspires me to be an even better person than I was yesterday, last year…
    This whole situation could have made me extremely bitter, but no, it didn’t. It rather inspired me to get EVEN DEEPER into the shoes of other people; which is my God-given purpose. And the cherry on the cake, is that I know that God has my back; I know that I will get justice – not sure when, but what I am sure about, is that I will get justice.

    It is easy to become angry when we experience something that is unfair or unjust. It is easy to become hateful towards a specific group of people too – when our “perpetrator” is from the specific group. However, I had chosen to, when I experienced (a few times) how some white South Africans could stand together and protect a lie – going about their business and still claim integrity, I could say: “Look at them – this is what white people are.” … But no, that won’t be true of all white South Africans; it won’t be fair to all white South Africans either AND such a horrible generalisation, is definitely not going to help our beautiful South Africa. As a result, I opted every time to find those white South Africans who are definitely NOT like that; I opted to find those white South Africans who take integrity very seriously – and I have found them / I find them every time.

    The list of bad and hurtful things that I had experienced over the course of my life at the hand of one or more white South African, is long, dear Helen; The items on that list, very painful; but I will NEVER generalise and I will NEVER be a racist. It is too easy to generalise and it is too easy to be racist and I do not do easy; I do getting into the shoes of people, I do reflecting; I do evaluating and even re-evaluating – if needs be.

    (The above point is also just another point I am making – I am NOT saying that you are generalising or that you are a racist).
    But yes, it seems like some of the comment-contributors to your post, are generalising and it seems as if some of them are indeed racist.

    I pray that God would also touch your heart, Helen. I pray that you will reflect again and find healing if you are struggling with hurt feelings or even self-blame, because SA needs your contribution, but with- and in the right spirit.

    God bless you and your family – and every comment-contributor too. Yes, even if I disagree with you.

    Mooiste dag almal.

    From me – Andeline, also called #EmpathyQueen

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  17. Helen
    You are a grown immature white racist who will never change even when given an opportunity to repent of your sins because the devil is your father with any daught.

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  18. I do not care what ever narrative Zille wants to push, she is racist …. racist … racist. She must collect all Whites in that Cape Town and bind them together and leave Blacks Coloureds and Indians alone. They thought they have a party in DA and yet not. They should discuss their plight with other progresive political parties, they will be accepted.

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  19. Before we even start seems like u guys are saying Helen Zille is racist if u look at her platform she helped black people get jobs white people get jobs coloured people jobs and Indian people get jobs so like I rather shut my mouth if I was u due to ur lack of IQ level is totally low I have also seen now that the racial card is coming up if she just wants a white party wats wrong with that seriously to me a party is a group of people that u nominate that u can trust I mean come on Helen Zille has a few white members and is outruned by black people in her party and u guys still say oh no it’s because we black I mean come on me talking as a born free I don’t give 2 flying fucks wat anyone says due to I ain’t racial I’m fluently spoken to in English and in Zulu proudly white and I’m from Durban so clearly u guys no fuck all about racism due to she was only voicing her opinion there was no striking or abuse maybe typing abuse but not verbal or physical so shut ur traps and sit ur asses down for once kiddos

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  20. Wait! The black leadership was not elected democratically were promoted by Hellen Zille?🤔
    Democracy where are you?

    Does this mean they were elected to attract black people to the DA?

    We knew Maimane was a puppet nje

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  21. Those people are only interested on the black votes finish and klaar. Those are voting for DA and continuing to vote for them. It’s about time you need to be realistic. They killed our parents, fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers etc. Wake up and smell coffee they will continue to insult a black child.

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  22. Hawu! shame Dante, you have internalised anger, just reading your statement makes me realise how those who never believed that blacks will ever rule, wake up to the reality e very day and they still believe it’s a dream even when they never ‘went to sleep’. Umlungu is making a confession, however, she knew from the bottom of his heart that had it not been the black vote, she still would be kicking like a dying horse, playing a blaming game to project white rule as being better than that of blacks. Maybe it was better because whites also thought and many still think that everything great belonged to them and that people of color were not humans but two legged animals, just good enough to clean their children and old parents’s dirty a….ole. Have you forgotten that for that rule to be in the white hands, it was stolen? Zille must wake up now, she will have peace. ‘To those who belive in humanity before everything else let us just work to make South Africa a better place’ At least Zille and them are awarded ample opportunity to think and say their minds, have we had this opportunity in 1942, to say how we felt and thought the country would have been a different place le today.

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  23. Helen Zille, are you busy with your Doctoral thesis, sorry girl, it is far above the heads of the down to earth people of South Africa. Those are the people who NOW need a people’s PARTY to fight for their needs. I am a white South African and I am very dissapointed in the way you are blowing your own trumpet. You lost touch with reality. Millions of SA’s are not living the luxurious lifestyle you think is the norm.
    Wake-up and stay at home and not in politics. Why the hell do you think we voted for the DA? So you can continue playing the leading main role in you own movie. You became very in- love with yourself and don’t even look or sound like the leader you were many years back.

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  24. I’m very disappointed by the resignation of the DA leader and the Jhb mayor. These guys were not strategic, I had many scenarios on how we can capture DA so it becomes the powerful black part , and slowly sideline/get rid of racists as we saw in the recent elections where most of them went to join FFplus….alas!! Intimidated by the return of Zille who made it clear that she will stay in her lane. I’m still not convinced why they resigned? Are they accepting that they perform poorly and could not deliver what was agreed in their performance agreements?

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  25. I love you Zille. You are vibrant and unique
    You have shown South Africa you are made of stuff. The DA governs well where ever it is.
    Viva DA

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