Zille predicts that next DA leader will be black

2011-05-22 10:00
Sabelo Ndlangisa and Adriaan Basson
Helen Zille believes that the next DA leader will be black.

An exhausted but relieved Zille spoke to City Press at the Independent Electoral Commission’s election centre in Pretoria on Friday, saying she has only spent 16 nights in her own bed since her party’s election campaign intensified in February.

In the run-up to this week’s municipal election, the DA openly flirted with black voters, and won in a number of black-dominated voting districts and wards across the country.

These gains included one ward in Tswaing, North West, and another in Lady Frere, Eastern Cape.

Zille said her party’s campaign to increase its support base among black people and the election of a black leader was “unlikely” to alienate its traditional white supporters.

She cited the outcome of the municipal polls to argue that her party had not lost its traditional voters, despite its focus on drumming up black support.

Zille said: “The next leader of the DA will, in all probability, be a black South African. I can’t guarantee it, but we’ve got exceptional talent.

“I can tell you it will boost our support, not reduce it, because all South Africans want relevance to their vote.”

The DA’s share of the vote has shot up from 16.3% in 2006 to about 24% in the latest poll, while its share of black voters grew from under 1% in 2009 to about 5% currently.

While admitting that the politics of identity were still an important determinant of political choices, Zille said people could not be “pigeonholed in racial boxes”, as they have multiple identities.

“We are not denying identity or the legacy of apartheid. We are just saying people are not merely identified by race.

“We are a party that recognises the effect of apartheid and its psychological scars. Not entrenching race as the sole marker of identity is the antidote to addressing the past without entrenching apartheid,” said Zille.

While ANC deputy election head Jessie Duarte accused the DA of reinforcing racism in the way it appealed to minority communities in places like the Western Cape, Zille said the ANC’s claims of “ownership” of black people had had the effect of casting the ruling party as a “racial nationalist party”.

ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema’s disparaging of DA national spokesperson Lindiwe Mazibuko as the “madam’s tea girl”, Zille said, also revealed the ANC to be a “sexist” party.

“We deliberately shied away from that. We were running a positive campaign,” she said.

While the outcome of the municipal election is viewed as the beginning of the emergence of a two-party system, as it spelt the death knell for smaller opposition parties, it is not clear when the DA thinks it will muster enough electoral support to become a real alternative government to the ANC.

Zille intimated that her party might be ready to do so by 2019, but warned this would hinge on a number of factors that can’t be predicted.

When pressed, she confirmed that the next frontiers for her party would be Gauteng, Northern Cape and North West.

“We’ve already made plans for 2014 and 2019, when we’ll be in (national) government. A major realignment of South African politics is about to take place in the next five years,” she said.

While the DA wiped out the conservative Freedom Front Plus, Zille bemoaned the demise of the Congress of the People (Cope), which she called “one of the tragedies of South African political history”.

Zille said: “I would like to see Cope get back on its feet. We would have taken Nelson Mandela Bay (PE) and Pretoria had Cope survived.”

The DA’s merger with Ziba Jiyane’s National Democratic Convention and Patrica de Lille’s Independent Democrats had been a significant factor in her party’s growth.

The two parties’ structures were mainly in KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape.

The issues of open toilets dominated political debate in the last few days of the local government election campaign.

Zille admitted that she had been “hurt” by the Makhaza toilet saga, which was seen as an infringement of the residents’ right to dignity.

She said she had apologised publicly, while her ANC rivals did not do the same in Moqhaka.