Zille living proof of the great possibilities in SA

Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya

Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya

It was quite fitting that the Democratic Alliance victory in Western Cape, with its leader Helen Zille at the helm, was confirmed on the weekend before Freedom Day.

This because her becoming Western Cape premier is one of post-apartheid's greatest milestones.

It might be argued that Zille is not the first woman to be elected premier. The late Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri was our first premier in 1997. She was replaced by another woman, Winkie Direko, who was herself succeeded by yet another woman, Beatrice Marshoff.

Since then North West's Edna Molewa, Eastern Cape's Nosimo Balindlela and Dipuo Peters in North Cape have all worn the title of Madam Premier.

Zille even replaces another woman, Lynn Brown. If you want to stretch it a bit, you could even go as far as to point out that South Africa has had a woman president - when Matsepe-Casaburri acted for 14 hours between Thabo Mbeki's resignation and Kgalema Motlanthe's taking office.

There is a difference though between Zille and all other women premiers before her. None of the women who became premiers knew they were going to hold that office. Ditto the electorate.

People voted for parties and were pleasantly (or unpleasantly in some instances) surprised to learn that the powers that be at some office in central Johannesburg had decided on their becoming premiers.

With Zille those who voted for the DA in Western Cape knew exactly what they were signing up for or what they were avoiding.

One needs to go beyond the shackles of ideology to appreciate the historical significance of a Zille election victory. This is not to mask her shortcomings, which include her party's tendency to want to believe that blacks "exaggerate" the effect of apartheid.

She will leave her office with many residents in the predominantly African and coloured neighbourhoods of Cape Town arguing that their sorry living conditions mean she should not have been selected World Mayor of the Year in 2008.

All this notwithstanding, Zille has bridged the gap between the old South Africa and the one we are trying to build now.

While in the past you had to be an Afrikaans-speaking white male to hold a position of similar significance in government, in present day South Africa a perception is being created that the stage is specifically reserved for black males.

It cannot be insignificant that a South African province has directly voted for a white woman, who proudly calls herself a liberal, to head it.

This vote should free many other whites, such as those led by the Freedom Front Plus, who have come to the lazy conclusion that they simply have no future in South Africa.

Nobody is saying that Zille is the new Nelson Mandela - far from it. But one day our children will look at the inauguration of this white, English-speaking liberal woman around the same time that a self-taught Zulu traditionalist took high office and believe that South Africa does indeed belong to all who live in it and is alive with possibilities.