Helen Zille answers her critics

The DA leader says the ANC may apply gender quotas, but its Big Men remain in control

During a turbulent week, my thoughts have often turned to the Kenyan government of "national unity", widely heralded as a solution to the conflict and polarization in that country following the elections of December 2007.

The "unity government" is actually a symptom of a failed democracy. After the ruling party refused to accept defeat at the polls, an arrangement was made for the President to stay in office, while his rival became Prime Minister. There are two deputy presidents and 40 cabinet ministers with 50 assistant ministers. Each minister received new mahogany furniture, a new Mercedes Benz for town travel and a Land Cruiser for the countryside. The cabinet costs an estimated one billion dollars annually (roughly one-eighth of government revenue). The commentators were satisfied. The quotas were filled. Every power monger got a piece of the pie. And the Big Men remained in control.

This scenario came to mind when President Jacob Zuma announced his Cabinet this week. There are now 62 Cabinet members (including deputies). They will cost the taxpayers at least R1-billion per year, and counting. Zuma's Cabinet is designed to repay political debts, settle scores, balance factions, meet quotas, and co-opt some opponents. The commentators are satisfied. The quotas are filled. The Big Men remain in control.

But in the one province the ANC lost, there is uproar. ANC affiliates are threatening to make the province "ungovernable" and take "militant action". Trade unions are threatening to strike. Spokesmen are vowing to "bring Zille to her knees". It is a re-play of what happened when the ANC lost an election in Cape Town in 2006. Only the pretext is different. This time the commentators and the media, hunting in their customary pack, justify the protests on the basis of the all-male composition of the provincial cabinet.

They have swallowed whole the ANC's narrative that filling quotas is the most important criterion for establishing a government.

They are now trying to force me to sing the same tune. They would, no doubt, be satisfied if I followed Zuma's example by increasing the size of the Cabinet, and creating a slew of sinecure positions as an equity façade.

But this is not the DA's narrative. We have a mere ten MEC positions in the Province to undertake the nigh impossible task of fixing the chaos the ANC has left behind, and deal with the scale of in-migration, driven in large measure by the ongoing collapse of service delivery in quota driven provinces.

In the DA we apply the "fitness for purpose" test to each appointment. We create opportunity. We do not manipulate outcomes. And the many women in top positions in the DA know they are there because they add value, not to fill a patronizing quota. "Big men" certainly do not control the DA.

But the whole brouhaha has actually got nothing to do with the composition of the cabinet. This is just a convenient pretext for the real issues.

In the ANC's eyes we have committed three cardinal sins.

  1. We beat them in an election.
  2. We exposed the lie that the ANC is a non-sexist organization that promotes gender equity.
  3. We broke sexist cultural taboos around male sexuality and HIV/AIDS.

We know from bitter experience in Cape Town that the ANC does not take electoral defeat lying down. Instead they use every trick imaginable to reverse the voters' choice. We are now seeing the same pattern emerging in the Province. We are ready for them.

And, as in 2006, most of the media and commentators have failed to see through this. They buy the ANC's narrative once more, just as they swallowed the ANC's line on the kangaroo court, known as the Erasmus Commission.

When various ANC affiliates use the most vile sexist slurs against me (ironically in the name of promoting gender equity!), various commentators seek to establish a "moral equivalence" between our contesting positions by quoting -- entirely out of context -- one sentence from the middle of a letter I wrote to a newspaper responding to ANC attacks. In this way the media can accuse us equally of "mud-slinging" and "descending into the gutter". They can also manufacture a "major row", as if both sides, equally, are spoiling for a fight.

I appreciate the fact that the ANC distanced itself from the worst of these statements (although they created the climate in which they occurred).

However, the (male) gender commissioner has remained silent about the extreme sexism of the ANC Youth League and the Umkhonto we Sizwe War Veterans Association that both accused me of appointing men to my Cabinet in return for sexual favours. Contrast the commissioner's silence on this issue with his vocal threats to take me to court to impose quotas on the Western Cape Cabinet. His obsession with quotas is actually a useful diversion from the real issues that oppress women in South Africa.

Have you ever heard the gender commissioner challenge the assumption, still held my millions of South African men, that multiple unprotected sexual encounters are their right? This is the worst manifestation of South African patriarchy, and it is encouraged by the behaviour of some leaders. It is also the main reason why we cannot bring the AIDS pandemic under control and why women bear the greatest burden of this disease. I will keep making these points no matter how much outrage it elicits. Denial and political correctness are far easier than challenging deep-rooted cultural norms of sexual dominance that are the root cause of gender oppression.

Have you ever heard the gender commissioner insisting that men who make babies should actually accept their responsibilities as fathers?

I could go on, but the list of omissions is too long. Almost every structure established to protect the rights of South Africans has become an extension of the ANC, protecting the powerful against ordinary people and maintaining a culture of silent denial about the root causes of many of our country's biggest problems.

The role of the opposition (amongst other things) is to break that silence. We will continue to do this, no matter how much politically correct outrage this elicits.

This article by Helen Zille first appeared in SA Today, the weekly online newsletter of the leader of the Democratic Alliance, May 15 2009

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