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'Time will tell if Zille perpetuates DA's patriarchal tendencies in a skirt'

By unknown | May 09, 2007 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Waghied Misbach

Waghied Misbach

Helen Zille has been elected the new leader of the DA, but questions are already being asked whether she can manage two jobs and grow the party in the black community.

Zille has said she will build a strong team to handle all parts of the DA and will not interfere in the party's parliamentary leadership contest tomorrow.

This contest will likely take place between former National Party cabinet minister Thinus Delport and National Assembly house chairman Sandra Botha.

Jonathan Faull from the Institute for Democracy in South Africa (Idasa) said yesterday it was difficult to say at this stage whether Zille can handle being both mayor and national party leader.

"I don't think it is impossible, but it will require a lot of work. It depends on the structure she puts in place to manage communications between the leader's office, the mayor's office and the parliamentary caucus.

"It would be premature to say whether it would go up or down."

The DA knows if it wants to grow, the party has to make a "meaningful" impact in the black community which means a change in political strategy.

"To what extent these things are achievable is up in the air at the moment," Faull said.

"South Africa continues to be characterised by identity politics. For the DA to succeed there needs to be a societal shift to issue politics. This is no small thing," he said.

He said there were other factors that could impact on the DA's success or failure. One of the big ones was the state of the ANC and its tripartite alliance, which is likely to go through a "rocky period" for the next three to five years.

To succeed, Faull said, Zille and her party should demonstrate they care about the concerns of the black community. Right now, Zille was "making the right noises", he said.

But the question really is whether a party dominated by whites would allow her to take it on a different strategy.

For instance, at the party's congress at the weekend, Faull said, he observed at lunch times the "dynamics" of delegates who tended to be "a little 'ghettoised'" with groups of whites, coloureds and blacks sitting at different tables.

Faull said the party's black and coloured constituencies voted for Zille because she displayed political acumen and managerial skill, and had also done an excellent marketing job.

Zille and Eastern Cape leader, Atholl Trollip, had an "election machine" which ensured supporters handed out flyers, T-shirts and put up posters.

In contrast, Joe Seremane, the party's federal chairman and a candidate at last weekend's leadership contest, was "disorganised" and did not do much of this at all. In fact, he was handing out handwritten notes as part of his canvassing.

The fact that a woman has become leader of a national political party is "something all progressive South Africans should be happy about".

But, Faull said, South Africa was a "long way off" becoming a non-sexist society considering this country's "long history of paternalism, patriarchy and sexism".

Aubrey Matshiqi, a political analyst at the Centre for Policy Studies, said he did not think Zille would have a problem being mayor and party leader.

He said there were precedents "all over the world" where party leaders ran their countries. Zille wasn't even running a country, only a city, said Matshiqi.

He said he did not "understand the apprehension" over Zille taking on both positions.

On gaining support in the black community, Matshiqi said that over the next three or four elections Zille would only "marginally" increase the DA's support in the black community.

The DA cannot consolidate its support base in the white community and at the same time gain black votes, argued Matshiqi.

He said the DA had shown it had been "inept" at gaining black votes with tactics that have alienated blacks. The party leadership would have to sort out strategies to deal with this.

The DA's success in gaining black votes would also depend on changes in the black community and the extent to which a younger portion of the growing middle-class, with less connection to the liberation struggle, would move away from the ANC and seek an alternative political home.

Matshiqi's advice to Zille was to "lay the foundation" for future DA leaders beyond 2014 so the party could consolidate its support base and gain black votes.

He said Seremane was not the right person for the DA leadership because "insubstantial things such as charisma do not count" in these contests.

"The question is not only whether the DA was ready for a black man as leader, but ready for this black man," he said.

He said it was a "good thing" that another woman headed a national political party.

However, time would tell whether Zille would perpetuate the same "patriarchal tendencies in a skirt".


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