Zille: a lick or a bite?

2008-05-17 00:00

Last week Helen Zille celebrated her first anniversary as national leader of the Democratic Alliance.

It was marked with banner headlines all week — well, on the DA’s website — and a smarmy paeon of praise from parliamentary leader Sandra Botha and MP James Self. This was sent to DA offices countrywide and then round-robined to anyone and everyone.

For all his vanities, one does not recall Zille’s predecessor, Tony Leon, making a big thing of his anniversaries.

But then political anniversaries are a bit like their wedding counterparts. The first and second, the fifth and 10th, are marked religiously and then ennui, divorce or deposal usually takes its toll. One must hope that we will not have to endure a frenzy of excitement when Zille reaches her 25th anniversary as opposition leader.

Given Zille’s years as a hardnosed journalist, she must have cringed at the release — “such outstanding leadership, such energy, such commitment”. Or at least one hopes she did. It seems inconceivable that such sycophancy was released with her approval.

If she signed off on it, Zille should remember that when political colleagues start spreading the unction about the party leader’s nether regions, it is never entirely clear whether they are preparing the leader for a lick of the chops or a bite on the backside.

That is not to deny that Zille has much to be pleased about, not the least being that she simultaneously, successfully, has held down the jobs of mayor and party leader, something the pundits said she couldn’t, shouldn’t do.

As mayor she has transformed the Cape Town metro from a den of thieves and incompetents, and the city has gained an admirable unqualified Auditor-General’s report. Zille has also somehow held together a wobbly city alliance with the Independent Democrats to see off various African National Congress stratagems to unseat her.

At a national level the DA’s performance has been less stellar, but given the problems of breaking the race mould of our politics, it is puttering along reasonably. The tone has become less shrill and the DA achieves something that none of the other opposition parties does — it comprehensively and intelligently monitors government performance, or mostly lack thereof.

It is an enigma then that given her generally sound vote-winning instincts, she persists in her damaging feud with Judge Nathan Erasmus and his commission of inquiry.

In a manner reminiscent of the screeds with which IFP leader Dr Mangosuthu Buthelezi used to inundate the media, Zille and her supporters have engaged in long, angry exchanges with anyone who dares suggest that she should curb her sharp-tongued attacks on Erasmus.

The Cape High Court is yet to rule on Zille’s challenge to the legality of the commission. Nevertheless, it is remarkable that despite her very personal slurs against Erasmus, her application does not produce any evidence of his supposed bias and willingness to be “used” by the ANC.

Her counsel merely argued that for any judge to head such a commission would be “constitutionally incompatible” and would “compromise” the judge. While Zille might yet prevent the commission’s inquiry, her vituperativeness towards the judge is the worst kind of smear politics.

And while one is picking on Zille, why does she call her online column SAToday? Is it meant to be SA Today? Or Satoday, coming before Sunoday? Or maybe it’s a variation of the joke about an alien beamed down from a SATellite, along the lines, “I am your leader, take me to my people”.

A final thought for Jim and Sandy. On Helen’s anniversary next year a short private note will suffice or, if you must be soppy, a Hallmark card.

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