Things you may not know about Helen Zille
We all know Helen Zille as the Premier of the Western Cape and leader of the Democratic Alliance(DA), but what else do you know about her?
- Helen Zille was born in Hillbrow, Johannesburg, the eldest child of parents who separately left Germany in the 1930s to avoid Nazi persecution (her maternal grandfather and paternal grandmother were Jewish).
- Her father's uncle was the artist Heinrich Zille.
- Her mother was a volunteer with the Black Sash Advice Office.
- She obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Witwatersrand
- Zille speaks fluent English, Afrikaans, Xhosa and German.
- Helen is married to Professor John Maree, and together they have two sons, Paul and Thomas.
- Prior to entering politics, Helen Zille made a name for herself during the apartheid era as a political journalist, working for the Rand Daily Mail, South Africa’s leading liberal newspaper.
- As a political correspondent for the now defunct Rand Daily Mail, Zille's journalistic skills helped her uncover the true story behind Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) leader, Steve Biko's death in 1977, which she discovered were due to police brutality and not natural causes as the government had claimed. The Apartheid government’s reaction to the article was to threaten the Rand Daily Mail with banning and called Zille and her editor, Allister Sparks, before the Press Council. The Presiding Judge of the Council, Justice Oscar Galgut, found both Zille and Sparks guilty of “tendentious reporting” and forced the Rand Daily Mail to make a correction.
- She resigned from the Rand Daily Mail along with editor Allister Sparks, after the paper's owner, Anglo American, demanded that Sparks tone down the paper's equal rights rhetoric.
- Zille was heavily involved in the Black Sash movement during the 1980s. She served on the regional and national executives of the organisation, and was also vice-chair of the End Conscription Campaign in the Western Cape.
- During this time she was arrested for being in a "group area" without a permit, and received a suspended prison sentence.
- Zille and her husband later offered their home as a safe house for political activists during the 1986 State of Emergency, and she was temporarily forced into hiding with their two-year-old son.
- She knew and was mentored by anti-apartheid figurehead Harry Schwarz since she was a child.
- Zille was also actively involved in the South Africa Beyond Apartheid Project and the Cape Town Peace Committee. She later gathered evidence for the Goldstone Commission which investigated attempts to destabilise the Western Cape before the elections in 1994.
- Zille formed a public policy consultancy in 1989 and in 1993 she was offered the position of Director of Development and Public Affairs at the University of Cape Town. During this time Zille also chaired the governing body of Grove Primary School, and in 1996 led a successful challenge against government policy limiting governing bodies' powers to appoint staff
- Zille was nominated as one of 820 world mayors and was winner of the 2008 World Mayor award in October 2008. “ Helen Zille is a passionate and very hard-working mayor who has stood up to enormous bullying to push for improved service delivery in her city. — www.worldmayor.com