THE END OF AN ERA
This week will mark the end of an important era of South African politics when Helen Zille hands over the reins of leadership to a new person at the Democratic Alliance Conference in Port Elizabeth on Saturday and Sunday.
Helen was elected to lead the Democratic Alliance on 6 May 2007 taking over from Tony Leon who had led the DA since its inception in 2000, prior to that he was leader of the Democratic Party (DP) from 1994.
Tony took over the leadership of the DP after it had been all but decimated in the 1994 democratic elections leading the Party with 1.5% of the vote to being the official opposition in Parliament, with 12% of the vote and having representation in all the provincial legislatures, councillors in municipalities throughout South Africa and including being the majority party in the City of Cape Town where Helen Zille was the mayor.
Without a doubt under the leadership of Tony Leon democracy was strengthened in South Africa and the role of an effective probing opposition that maintained a vigilant oversight over the Executive was established and continues to perform this function in every forum in which they are represented.
However, after 13 years at the helm of the party Tony decided that the time had come for him to retire as leader and hand over to a new leader.
When amid great hype Helen Zille was elected to lead the DA, she pledged to build the opposition, govern effectively, grow our party and make it more diverse. She has delivered not only these commitments but many more.
Under her leadership the DA has:
- Grown from 12% of the national vote to almost 23% a 33.7% growth from 1.9 million votes to more than 4 million. This prevented the ANC from attaining a two-thirds majority in Parliament;
- Defended the Constitution from the ANC which has sought every means possible to circumvent those provisions that protect the rule of law, the independence of those state institutions responsible for supporting constitutional democracy (the Chapter 9 institutions);
- Relentlessly perused actions to review the decision to discontinue the prosecution against Jacob Zuma and the decision to appoint Menzi Simelane as the NDPP. The litigation that she initiated established bench-mark precedents in the development of constitutionalism in South Africa;
- Greater financial and organisation strength than ever before;
- Becoming a Party of Government not only in the City of Cape Town but also in many other municipalities in the Western Cape, Northern Cape, Eastern Cape and Gauteng. And, for the first time, in 2009, the DA took control of the Western Cape Province, an achievement that was repeated in 2014 with a dramatically increased majority;
Without a doubt the DA is now the most diverse party in the history of South Africa. The Party now has branches in townships and far-flung rural communities. In the 2014 general election the majority of the DA’s support base was for the first time drawn from previously disadvantaged South Africans;
These successes have been achieved through her approach to Leadership. She brought her own unique style of campaigning to the DA. She visited communities in every corner of South Africa, joined the communities singing and dancing as well as addressing the issues affecting them.
Helen’s achievements are as result of her approach to leadership – hard work, dedication and the acceptance of personal responsibility. An eighteen hour work day is the norm rather than the exception for her.
Little wonder that as Mayor of Cape Town she was voted World Mayor. There can be no doubt that during her tenure in office Cape Town and later the Western Cape Provinces are regarded as the best governed areas in South Africa. Under her Premiership the Western Cape now has the lowest unemployment rate in the country, the best education and health systems, and the best record for basic service delivery.
Of course she is not perfect. Helen has her faults, some people disapprove of her methods, and they regard her as being too tetchy and not accepting criticism, of always wanting her own way and always criticising the government rather than offering alternative policies.
However, despite whatever short comings that she may have nobody can ever question her commitment to liberal democracy and to South Africa. From the days when she was a young reporter at the Rand Daily Mail and exposed the Steve Biko scandal, through her membership of the Black Sash and the End Conscription Campaign her commitment to the rule of law and upholding the spirit and the letter of our constitution has remained resolute.
As the DA prepares for a change of leadership there is no doubt that the party is on the path to grow even further, it is currently the second largest political party in South Africa, has a leadership representative of South Africa and remains poised to continue as the only party to have increased its votes in every election since 1994.
Perhaps the most fitting legacy to Helen Zille who has built the DA into a substantial political party on the foundations of Tony Leon was last week when DASO, the DA’s student wing, won the student representative council elections at the University of Fort Hare in the Eastern Cape. This has always been an ANC stronghold where freedom icons such as Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Robert Sobukwe and Robert Mugabe received their tertiary education.
This breakthrough is clearly a sign of things to come!
Having had the honour and privilege to serve on the Party’s Federal Executive during the Helen Zille and Tony Leon era’s I have no doubt that they have both played pivotal roles in strengthening democracy in South Africa and for providing an alternative government for the future.
I have every confidence that the new Leader of the Democratic Alliance whoever he may be will continue with this mission.
Until next week,
This newsletter is published by Clive Hatch former Leader of the Opposition in the Mpumalanga Provincial Legislature and DA Provincial Leader. These views are my personal views and do not represent those of any other person or organisation.