'Time to say goodbye,' sings Helen Zille

2019-03-03 07:19
Outgoing Western Cape premier delivers a speech at the DA's provincial manifesto launch. (Jan Gerber/News24)

Outgoing Western Cape premier delivers a speech at the DA's provincial manifesto launch. (Jan Gerber/News24)

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"Time to say goodbye…" Helen Zille sang, her voice trailing off as she got to the unfamiliar, Italian part of Andrea Bocelli's song.

She came to the podium jiving and singing along to Brenda Fassie's 'Vulindlela' in the Bellville Velodrome on Saturday, where she, as outgoing premier, addressed the rally to launch the DA's manifesto for the Western Cape. It was right after 'Vulindlela' that she sang Bocelli's number, in a somewhat wavering voice.

Then she said, her typically stoic expression softened with a smile: "Julle sal almal in my hart bly voortleef, [You'll all live forever in my heart]."

She said something in isiXhosa, to which a man in the audience said: "We love you too!" 

He was part of a group of people who were kept from the stage by reflector-vest clad security personnel, rock concert style. 

Zille clearly came to say a farewell of sorts, but the political steel that saw her become the leader of the DA, mayor of Cape Town and the first Western Cape premier to finish two terms, soon shone through.

She rattled off statistics that, according to her, illustrate that the Western Cape is the best-run province. The DA-difference, as the 'blue people' like to call it. 

"When we came into power we had zero – zero! – clean audits," she said. "Now we have 83%."

Her statistics were met with polite applause, and after a while Zille said she's not going to throw more statistics at the audience.

"There is a very important thing you can do. It is you can vote blue."

"Alles sal regkom as elkeen sy plig doen [Everything will improve if everybody does their part]."

With more than a hint of indignation in her voice, she said that 62% of South African fathers left their children.

"Mense wat nie hul verantwoordelikhede nakom nie, help ons nie. [People who don't fulfil their responsibilities, doesn't help us]," she said sternly.

"Take responsibility!" an audience member blurted out.

"My tyd is op [My time is done.]"

She left the podium. Exit stage right. A teal dress in a sea of blue T-shirts. Ladies and gentlemen, Helen Zille has left the building…

Well, not quite. 

Soon after, she found herself in a room with snacks, coffee, wifi and assorted media types.

"I won't sing it again," she said, breaking into a smile. "But it is time to say goodbye."

Asked what she thought as she walked off the stage, she said: "Well, you know, I love the spirit of a DA rally. Daar's geen gees soos 'n DA gees nie [There's no spirit like DA spirit]. And a little bit nostalgic. A little bit sad. But I'm the kind of person who always moves into the future. So, I just love the DA. I love the people in the DA. I love South Africa. I think the DA's success will be South Africa's success. And I'm so glad that I'm leaving a great team to carry on."

She hopes that the DA retains the Western Cape.

"It would be very, very bad for South Africa if every single province were in the hands of one corrupt party. And as much as people may like Cyril Ramaphosa, as we've seen, he's hemmed about by people who are very, very tight on power, and who have very questionable histories. And no matter how much a person might cry, you can't turn around a party like the ANC."

News24 asked her what she considers her biggest achievement in government and her biggest failure.

A sigh, followed by: "Wellll, I think, the biggest achievement was holding together a seven-party coalition in very complex circumstances. 

"That was big. And challenging," she said with what seemed like a relieved smile. This is in reference to her time as mayor of Cape Town. 

"Second achievement is to have introduced governance systems that can produce results and systems that can measure those results so that we're sure that we're making progress. That's not seen by anybody, but it is a revolution in government to get those systems in place.

"Getting more children in school. Getting more children staying in school. Getting more children literate and numerate, and especially introducing an e-learning platform where 80% of schools are now linked to broadband, is a really big one. It lays a platform for the future.

"Our energy gamechanger. As Eskom goes into the utility death spiral, which it is in now, this province will be very well prepared for a green energy future. We've currently got 70% of green enterprises in South Africa. And we're the reason that South Africa is the fastest growing green economy in the world. And the Western Cape is ready, for a green energy future, through the work that we've done in the last five years.

"And I can go on and on.

"The most important legacy, of course, has been economic growth. And the fact that more than half a million additional have jobs now, that didn't when we came to power. Employment has grown by 24%, our unemployment rate is 14% lower by the broad definition of the national average. That is a legacy."

Note the absence of an answer to the second part of the question – what she regards as her biggest failure in government (it's not tweeting, by the way).

After posing the question two more times, and colleagues softening the blow by asking what she would have done differently, Zille said: "Well I don't know, you know. What? What would I have done differently?" 

Pause. 

"I might have spent more time with my family.   

"You see, it is very easy to say, looking back I would have done this differently, but would you have done it differently within the context of what you knew at the time? That's the big question. Would you have done it differently within the context of what you knew at the time? 

"I think I would have studied the complexity of bureaucracies much more and I would have put my mind to how one really delivers results in a very complex bureaucratic context with three spheres of government that are very difficult to work efficiently with. And, by the end of my time in government, I was really coming to grips with that. 

"So in many senses, I'm just ready to start being the premier now, when I'm finishing," she said, breaking into a smile.

"But term limits are a very good thing and they should exist," she added quickly.

"So, the vast experience that I have today, I would have liked to have had when I started. But no one can start their jobs, like being a mother or running a government, with experience. That's what you get making mistakes.

"The accumulation of my mistakes has made me ready."

And what does the future post-May 8 hold for Helen Zille? 

"You know, amazingly, I don't know yet. What I'm planning to do is take a bit of a holiday and really relax. I'm not sure if I can relax anymore! That's something I'll have to test. I'll have to learn how to reverse park again because I've been driven around for so long that I don't know if I can reverse park anymore. I'll have to learn to get to places on time because I have to factor in looking on a map or following GPS and finding parking and all of that. So, those are all skills I'll have to relearn. And they're are not easy skills to learn. So I'll spend some time learning basic survival skills."

Apart from adjusting to life outside of the bubble reserved for those in high political office, Zille also wants to write some more. 

"I love writing."

"I'll see, my whole life, the next door was opened. When one door closes, the next door opens. That's the story of my life."

Read more on:    da  |  helen zille  |  western cape
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