What Helen Zille failed to see while being Western Cape premier

2019-07-25 17:54
Helen Zille. (Jenni Evans, News24)

Helen Zille. (Jenni Evans, News24)

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South Africa is facing a swing toward "biological identity politics and victimhood" emerging around the world where even identifying as non-racial can be seen as a micro-aggression, former Western Cape premier Helen Zille said on Thursday. 

"If you are a member of a biologically defined group, you fit into a victimhood hierarchy," Zille told guests at the Cape Town Press Club on Thursday. 

Zille said this was one of the trends she had failed to see during her tenure as premier, and felt it had come at the worst possible time for South Africa. 

She said it ultimately stifled free speech and finding commonality, and this obstacle was bad for democracy. 

She said the organisers of her talk at the Press Club had asked her to tell guests what she thought her failures in politics were, and she regarded not spotting that trend as a failure.

"I failed to understand the massive shift of moral cultures that the English-speaking part of the world has become part of," she said. 

Zille has rankled people with Twitter conversations over whether everything about colonialism was bad, and debated white privilege and black privilege on the social network platform. 

She said people asked her "where is the old Helen", who fought for democracy, but she felt she had not changed. 

"They don't believe me - I am exactly the same person. The core values to which I default have not changed. 


"I genuinely believe in non-racialism"


"I have begun to understand that in a profound way the context in which I am working has changed and I haven't really integrated and articulated that properly. 

"My core values are non-racialism. I genuinely believe in non-racialism."

She said the victimhood hierarchy was making it impossible to build a common South African nation "with inherent rights of a different opinion".

Zille said she would stay on Twitter, and even use it as a platform to discuss these ideas.

She recognised that she was "bloody advantaged" even though her parents arrived in South Africa as penniless refugees.

"I know how privileged I am. But we must speak up and use the platforms we have unapologetically. 


"I don't run around offending people gratuitously"


"It adds a new right to the panoply of human rights to say you have the right not to be offended. 

"Believe me I don't run around offending people gratuitously."

She said she believes in being "decent and polite", but also believes in speaking the truth.

"We need to guard against this notion that there is a right not to be offended," she said.

"Obviously when you speak your mind you don't expect people to shut up. But when you're told you're not welcome in society, it becomes a different league." 

She said that Instagram trialing its "no likes" policy means that even the private sector has to protect people from being offended.

"This is anathema to our Bill of Rights, anathema to our values and it was this shift that I did not understand and this trend that I did not spot."

She was delighted to see former DA mayor Patricia De Lille appointed Public Works Minister, because the land that the Western Cape government needed for 100 000 housing beneficiaries might finally be released. 

'Tangled in red tape'

Ironically Zille also flagged "the rule of law" as something that is hampering progress in South Africa, saying that the lengthy processes of ticking boxes regarding red tape just to get a clean audit was hampering departments from doing more than they would like to.

It was also preventing the Western Cape government from buying power from independent power producers, because only Eskom may do that, in terms of the law. 

Zille said the rule of law can also mean that it takes five years just to get a spade in the ground for a housing project, due to all of the legal requirements. 

Read more on:    helen zille  |  politics
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