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The real person emerges more readily when we are in a safe place. So when Helen Zille met with fellow Christians at a ROTOP meeting in Cape Town recently, she wore her heart on her sleeve. What emerges is an authentic, dedicated leader who has never wavered from her beliefs and has no intention of doing so now, despite a fight that is damaging the political party she worked so hard to build. Her fault, perhaps, is to strive to be right when being kind might work just as well. But Helen is a product of her times, background, environment and perhaps most of all, her faith. And whatever her critics are now saying about her to achieve their own rather transparent objectives, Zille’s record on the issues which really matter is unimpeachable. In this transcript, which records the second part of her hour long engagement at ROTOP, Zille addresses the hot topics of the moment including Singapore, Pravin Gordhan, black elite enrichment and the Guptas. It also provides perspective on weak-minded and poorly conceived attacks on her by cohorts within the Democratic Alliance – and explains why she is fighting them with all the vigour of her well tested 66 year old spirit. – Alec Hogg
Your book breaks through the surface of politics and it takes us into the murky and sometimes smelly entrails, the betrayal, the backstabbing, the support from unlikely places. Why did you do that?
Well, you know I wanted this to be a true story and most people who know me know the true story, so I don’t want to write something that they think is fake or that I think is fake. If you’re going to write about your life you might as well write about your life. The only thing that I didn’t go into in any detail was my son’s lives because it is their right to write their own story and they don’t have to have their mother writing their story. So I wrote about with them when they were very little and very sweet, but their lives growing up and their later lives, they must interpret for themselves and they must write down one day and I’m sure that they will do that.
But politics, most people don’t really realise what goes on behind the scenes in politics.They know it’s a difficult and dirty game and a snake pit, but they don’t quite know how much nobility there is and how much deviousness there is and how those interact and collide with each other all of the time.
Yesterday was a perfect example. In the gallery was a young man called Mcebisi Skwatsha. He is the Deputy Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform. Mcebisi Skwatsha worked with me when I was in the townships all the time. I was arrested there for being in a group area without a permit and I got six months suspended sentence. All of that stuff and Mcebisi knew me very well and he knew my husband. When he was in COSAS, which was a student movement at the time, they often came to our house to be fed, he stayed there when he was running away from the police, he stayed with us etc. and this is a relevant story.
One day Mcebisi rocks up and says to us, “We need a car. We can’t hire a car because we’ve got no collateral” whatever, whatever, “The company won’t hire us a car, we need a car, will you hire one for us?” So my husband and I didn’t ask too many questions because we didn’t want to know too much. We obviously knew they were activists in the underground ANC at the time, but we didn’t want to ask because we wanted our plausible deniability if we went to court, which we thought was very likely to happen. So off we went to Avis and we hired them a yellow Toyota. I’ll never forget this yellow Toyota.
I thought no, yellow’s a bit too visible when you try to keep a low profile, but that’s the car they gave us. We handed over the key to Mcebisi and his mate, Ngiso Motoko and I said to them, “Now don’t mess this around hey. This is a lot – don’t get us into jail because of a car”. So off they go with this car and we’ve hired it for them for two weeks. And two weeks come and there’s no Mcebisi and there’s no car. It’s before cell phones, right, so I’m trying to get hold of him. I’m leaving messages here, I’m leaving messages there, and Avis is phoning us. We say, “No, no, no just give us a little bit more time, we need it longer, we signed a thing for the longer, da di da di da”. The car doesn’t show up and they don’t show up. They don’t answer messages, they do nothing.
Now you know we could hardly pay our bond. My husband was a junior lecturer at UCT and I was doing freelance work at that stage and I’d started my own business, so I had a mortgage on the house for my computer and for this and that and I didn’t know quite what to do. Eventually, they said they found the car on the Lesotho border abandoned and had to tow it in to Bloemfontein. So they’d found the car, but they said, “This car has been in an accident” and now we had to pay X, Y and Z. They weren’t asking us why the car was on the Lesotho border, thank the Pope, but they said, “This car’s been in an accident and it’s going to cost a lot of money to fix because it was so imperfectly patched up” and Johann said, “No, no, no, we’ll pay the excess”. We didn’t want to get into any kind of argument.
Well, when I was writing this book, I called Mcebisi and I said, “Mcebisi, will you come and just explain to me how that car ended up on the border?” I’ve never asked him, we just left it. We went on because I didn’t actually want to know. I thought if I’m arrested now because we’ve hired this car, I want to say, “I hired the car for a friend,” truthfully. I didn’t want to lie. So now I asked him, last year this time, I asked him, “Come Mcebisi, I want to talk to you about the car because I’m writing about it”. He then told me he’d hired it for various people who wanted to skip the country and join Umkhonto we Sizwe. They needed a car to do it, so they came to the only people they knew who would get them a car which was Johann and me and they said, “Get us a car”.
Then before they left Cape Town they had a big accident in Gugulethu with the son of Nomaindiya Mfeketo who became Mayor of Cape Town later on. So, he crashed the car. They took it to some kind of backroom panel beater to have it patched up and then they went off to Lesotho and abandoned it there and they said the person who’s supposed to fetch it and then drive it back did not rock up. , Well you know yes, all right. So, I mean now he laughs about it.
Now, yesterday when the ANC’s trying to destroy me, when they try to accuse me of breaking my oath of office for saying something that Nelson Mandela has said and there are still text books saying. Who’s sitting in the gallery to support all these people who are wailing and shouting at me? Mcebisi Skwatsha. Now that is just one tiny little story and the book is full of it, people in my own party, people this, people that, this book is full of it. Levels of duplicity that you couldn’t begin to believe and yet I like Mcebisi Skwatsha and he’s still a friend of mine. So, he can come and do that, but boy the knives in politics will cut off the head of their grandmother if they have to. The book is full of those stories.
I know that you are fluent in English, Afrikaans, and Xhosa.
You really are a champion of all people’s. Yes, you’re focused on your party, but you’ve sought the better of every citizen in our country and we thank you greatly for that. I want to ask the last question and then we’re going to open it to the floor. What would you say has been your biggest mistake in politics?
I’ve made a number of mistakes, lots and they’re all in the book too, no holds barred. Yes, I’d rather be honest about my mistakes than have other people make them up. I think there’s a common thread that runs through all my major mistakes and that is when I was trying to pander to public perception rather than the truth. The truth has gotten me into a lot of trouble, but retrospectively it turns out to have been the right thing to do. When I was pandering to the popular opinion of the day, what I did turned out to be the wrong thing to do and you will see that all through the major decisions I had to make. Some were disastrous, some were good, but right through I can see, when I’m pandering to public opinion, I make mistakes.
Helen, my name is Patrick Bredenkamp. I would be very interested to hear what you have to say about the trend in modern times to, well let’s prefer the euphemistically say… rewrite history…
Well, let’s say the winners always write history through their lens, but historians have to do some serious research and try to get to the facts. It is very popular today to portray the past as purely an interaction between villains and victims. There was a lot of villainy and there was a lot of victim for it in the past, no question, but it is much more complex than that as we all know. I can’t go into the full complexity now, although I’ve read a lot about it. The entire scope of human history is one of conquest and colonialism.
There are exactly ten countries in the world according to modern definitions that have never been colonised and some would argue that even those that now are established as not having been colonised such as, for example North Korea, were indeed once colonised by Japan. So there are big debates around who was colonised and who was not, but the maximum number of countries in the whole world that you could say was not colonised is ten. The rest have all been colonised in one way or another.
Some countries that were colonised in living memory have done spectacularly. Singapore was colonised for as long as South Africa. The Japanese occupation in 1942 I think it was towards the end of the war, was so brutal that it lives in many Singaporean memories today. When I went to Singapore I realised they were much poorer than South Africa in 1965, much, no comparison.
They were poorer than Ghana and today you cannot believe the modernity of that place and the plan to move into Society 5.0, which I had never even heard about. I understand the Fourth Industrial Revolution, but I’d never heard of Society 5.0. I was so amazed at the modernity of that place that I really started discussing with many people, why is Singapore like this? Then I went to Japan and Singapore has overtaken Japan that once brutally colonised it, not long ago, in the years that I was born. That isn’t too long ago, so I’m amazed by this. So I say, what is it and I go to the Singapore Discovery Centre which analyses all of the factors that make Singapore what it is today.
Everyone’s housed, the unemployment rate is 1.8% and before, the unemployment rate was so huge people lived in shacks, there were massive fires, there was massive opium addiction, you know, all the things that we see around us in South Africa. How did they do it? Well, when Lee Kuan Yew came to power there were a few things that he did. He said, “We’ve been oppressed, subjugated, we’re poor, we’re unemployed. Our path is to get people into jobs, how do we do that? The British have left us, but they’ve left us with a great deal of harm to our traditional systems, absolutely right. They have also left us with things on which we can build. Do we destroy everything that they brought or do we take those things on which we can build and take them further?”
He decided on the latter. He said, “The English language is something on which we can build because it is the language of the world economy, it can link us to the world, and more than that it can link us to each other because we speak every kind of possible language that you can think of”. I think there were 48 languages in that tiny place of Singapore and he said, “It can bind us together because it’s everybody’s second language”, that was his insight “And it can bind us to the rest of the world”. It’s also my second language, lots of people’s second language, right, but it binds you to the rest of the world because not many people can speak your first language.
Then he said, “We’ve got a port that British legacy left and that could become a very valuable trading port and the British left us a few nascent manufacturing industries and trading partners and even though they destroyed a lot and made us work for a pittance and did all of that, we’re going to build on what they left rather than destroy it” and he went round the entire world convincing people that Singaporeans were hardworking ,they were dedicated, they were committed, they needed investment, they would educate their people, they would do a whole range of things and because they were well-situated in the world and built on their port, literally within thirty years they became the world’s leading port competing with Rotterdam and they had taken every single one of their people out of poverty into formal housing. Now surely there’s something we can learn from that.
I was writing up the lessons and I wrote them up in the modern idiom which is a series of 12 Tweets. If people want to go look at the whole series, that’s the context and when you go to Singapore’s Discovery Centre and all over you must see the children’s games. There’s a game called Lax, which basically is a game about lazy people and hardworking people, but it very much simulates the games that our kids play. You know this one, it’s not violent, but basically you find yourself in all kinds of problematic situations and the only way you can get out of them is by telling the truth and working hard.
Yes, these are children’s games and they play them with great fascination and without even knowing it, they’re learning the value of honesty and they’re learning the value of hard work and if you’re lazy and if you take shortcuts and if you lie and you’ve got to work out on the screen what is a lie and what is the truth and how complex it is to distinguish between a lie and the truth often. They’re clever games. These kids learn that the way through problems in life is through the truth and through hard work. Then there’s another game that basically says, “By working together we can build our future”.
They are completely non-racial. No minorities get targeted, even though minorities were oppressive to the native Singaporeans, everybody’s included, a minority can become the Prime Minister like an Indian did recently. It’s a tiny minority, they are completely committed to non-racialism, and to inclusion and this is what you see on their computer games. Then you see this is what’s made this country great.
Now look, it’s not a free country, it’s only rated as partly free because of the extent of press freedom and other things, so I don’t want to trade our freedom for their part freedom, but if you say the first freedom is the freedom to eat, well, the Singaporeans are eating and if you say the first freedom is to earn a living so that you can look after your family, they’re doing that. If you leave your cell phone somewhere, you will come back tomorrow, it will still be there.
There is almost zero crime in Singapore, zero crime and they got rid of the drug problem by the death penalty for drug dealing and they have an efficient police force. They will find drug dealers and they put them to death, but South Africa sends a convicted drug dealer as our High Commissioner to Singapore, just by the way, Hazel Ngubeni. Now okay, they’re partially free and we’re entirely free and I’m very much opposed to the death penalty, so I’m not speaking for the death penalty. I know other people aren’t but my view is that I’m opposed to the death penalty.
It’ s a vote of conscience in our party and we don’t have to agree on that issue, but I say what is the value of freedom if you can’t even get a conviction in court of a murderer because the police can’t find him or your president won’t go to court to face 783 charges of corruption. So we may be formally free, or where somebody because of the colour of their skin can’t say an obvious truth without a massive outcry, you know how do we aggregate that into the freedom index rather than just these formal freedoms. So these are the questions that I ask and that’s what causes the sky to fall in but I will continue asking them because they’re essential for South Africa’s success.
David Price speaking, I just want to build up on this. I have an email from a good friend of mine, Neville Berkowitz, I don’t know if you’ve ever known him or heard of him and it’s headed “Now it’s time to be brave and patient and not scared”, “President Zuma is about to commit the most stupid act of his disastrous reign. He has recalled Pravin Gordhan and his deputy from an overseas roadshow which was designed to give international leaders and investors hope in South Africa. It is likely he will fire one or both of them and put in Brian Molefe, a proven Gupta right-hand man.”
Just on that date Alec Hogg of BizNews, he said this morning that in fact, that Zuma had already said to the head of the Communist Party that he was at a meeting with him the day before, that Gordhan is toast. Our lovely Peter George had a meeting with President Zuma years back, it was about three years, four years back and he went to see Zuma and said, “Listen” and he was speaking prophetically over him, said that, “I believe that you must own up” when he was with these charges of corruption against him, “Come clean and you’ll probably be rapped over the knuckles and be crowned President of South Africa, but if you don’t, in fact, what’s going to happen is you’re going to end up in jail”. That actually hasn’t happened yet, but there’s possibly a chance now. So I just wondered if you would like to follow up on that because especially if that prophecy comes true now because I believe politically South Africa is at a cusp at the moment.
Well yes, let me first say that if we have a leak on you, it’s Pravin Gordhan. In the middle of all this mess he’s running around doing what is necessary to save us and running around the world saying, “South Africa’s fine, South Africa has a democracy, South Africa has a constitution. You can invest safely, we will respect the law, we will respect the law of contract, you can invest in South Africa” doing everything he can to achieve the number one priority which is jobs for people. Because Jacob Zuma wants to defend his friends, the Guptas, he recalls him.
Now what message does that send to the world? No, that you can’t and no, that he can’t say that and no, that there can’t be any confidence in the future of South Africa because we cannot do other priority things we have to do which is attract investment and grow jobs unless we have good government that people can trust and that can create a context where people want to be, where people want to invest their money, where people want to raise their children and where people believe there’s a future.
Pravin Gordhan understands that 100% and is trying to do that and Jacob Zuma is trying to defend, not only his meal ticket but his banquet ticket because the money involved is just incomprehensible numbers when you look behind, for example, the nuclear deal and other things and which Pravin Gordhan just refuses to sign, absolutely correctly and so does his Deputy Mcebisi Jonas and so did Nhlanhla Nene before him. So, it is extraordinary to see the people who are really putting themselves on the line for South Africa being taken out by a person who only has his own interests at heart and that is where the difference lies.
Now the trouble is he’s got a network of people who are also implicated in the whole network. So they have what Bathabile Dlamini’s called “smallanyana skeletons” and they can’t go against Zuma because the whole house will come crashing down. So let’s hope that Neville is right, that there is going to be a split in the ANC and that the good guys triumph and maybe in coalition with us. Let’s hope that that happens.
Aaron Maliki, come speak to us.
[Vernacular]. Helen, I just want to ask you just one question. You know, we’ve been working with you many years in a difficult situation, guys all over the communities, we love you so much, but there’s a question that’s going around now that you really were looking out for the plight of our black and poor people in this country, but now they are saying (some of them, not all of us, we still love you), but some of them are saying now, how can I say, the government or something like that back the white people.
Is your heart, you’re still the same, you want to stay in this country, but some people are saying Helen Zille, she wants now to leave politics and then making sure that everything is back now, gets back to the same. Can you just give a guarantee and help on that please?
Thank you, Aaron.
Right, can you help us?
Yes, okay I’ll answer this question in English. Pastor Makili and I have worked for years together, literally for years and I think when I was still Mayor of Cape Town I gave him an award for the work he’s done.
I’ve always stood up for the same thing Mfundisi. I’ve stood up for an equal future for every South African and I believe the choice in South Africa is not between black and white because we’re finished as a country if we let it be that. The choice in South Africa is between blue, yellow, and red and we have to look which party, the blue party, the red party, or the yellow party, offers the best option for every child and everybody’s future in South Africa. This government has done more for education, for health, for transport, against drugs and drug dealers, for economic growth and jobs than any other one in the country. That’s why this province has grown 30% in the last 15 years in terms of demography and why unemployment is the lowest in the country.
So we’ve not only made up for the population increase, but we’ve exceeded the growth and brought down unemployment which is an absolute miracle in the circumstances. The most important thing is to look at how the difference a government makes and whether it puts its money where its mouth is. We have had a massive redistribution budget to the poor areas of the city which is what we needed to do. We give the biggest subsidies for free basic services than any province, anywhere and any city anywhere and we would have finished taking away those shacks along the N2 a long time ago if there hadn’t been so much community conflict.
You see that one big shack along the N2, we can’t build on that newly open space because a person who has a four or five bedroomed shack wants a four or five bedroomed house, which we obviously cannot afford on the subsidy and he won’t move and we can’t move him without a court order and we can’t get a court order. So that is how a person on the ground is preventing us from building house.
What I’m saying now is, like I said before all the years I’ve worked with you, we must stand up for each other’s rights and if President Zuma wants to blame white people for everything that is going wrong in the country, I will say to him, “You and your policy and your corruption is why this country is going wrong and it’s not white people that are causing your problem.” And that’s all I would say.
I am Teubes.
Peter George he used to ask one question. Then you can’t say, “Don’t be ridiculous now”. What is the one thing that ROTOP can pray for you?
Well, my grandmother taught me, and I’ve only understood what it meant now, she said, “There are only two real prayers that you must pray. One is, Thy will be done, make me an instrument of Thy will”, and then she always used to add in in brackets, “But please don’t give me as much as I’m able to take”.
Alastair Buchanan, you are next.
I read in the reports and so on, that some of the motivation of Zuma to remove Pravin Gordhan is because of the perception that our democracy only went so far under Mandela and that the economy remains in the hands of the white elite and his attempts now to remove it, they say state capture is already in place, is what he’s saying. The economy is in the hands of a smaller league, he wants to remove it out of white hands and into black hands. Obviously, the Guptas are not option, but we can’t be [inaudible] that. We need to revisit our economy in this country, so if democracy’s growing but the wealth distribution is a big problem.
I’ll summarise the question. Jacob Zuma is the question, is saying that the steps he is taking in the economy are to diversify the economy because it is still run by an elite group of whites and what do I say to that argument?
My answer to that is, you must look and see what makes an economy grow and what distributes resources. What makes an economy grow are educated people who have good ideas, who borrow money from the bank, who invest that money in a business, who find a market and successfully grow the business and employ people. That is what happens. I’m afraid that is the only way in history that economies have grown sustainably and the Chinese economic growth happened when the Communist state allowed that to happen. So he didn’t allow political freedoms, but boy they allowed private enterprise to start growing the economy.
We chose political democracy first and believed that we could build an inclusive economy on political democracy and in theory we should be able to do that. We should have massively improved education, we should have massively aligned skills development to the areas of economic growth, we should have had hundreds of thousands of black entrepreneurs starting businesses as there are and employing people as there are, but mostly in the informal economy at this stage. I agree that BEE is essential to the progress of inclusion in the economy, but that has to be genuinely broad-based black economic empowerment, which means that workers deserve shares in the company they work for and if there is access to black people, which I believe there should be in many of the big multinational companies, it’s part own the business through shares in the business.
The reason that Jacob Zuma’s model has not advanced black inclusion in the economy, but destroyed economic growth, which pushes black people out of the economy because they’re the first people who suffer, is that for him broad-based black economic empowerment actually is a fig leaf for bribe based black elite enrichment, that’s what it is.
So, what you get is, look I unpack the example of Goldfields in this book. Goldfields wanted a mining licence. The ANC government said to Goldfields, “You can’t get a mining licence until you’re properly empowered, until enough of your company and of this new mine is owned by black people” and the condition was, “You have to give Baleka Mbete, the Chairman of the ANC and speaker of Parliament, R25m worth of shares and then you can get a mining licence because then you’ll be black empowered.”
So that is black economic empowerment and they have the cheek to call it broad-based black economic empowerment. Goldfields gave over R25mn to the State, they got their licence. Now that is a straight bribe and it has nothing to do with the empowerment of anybody except one powerful ANC person, but that’s what all of these empowerment groups were involved in. So people would get together, create empowerments groups, and basically demand massive advantages for themselves because they had political connections.
While the DA believes in a lot of the activities that companies have taken to make sure their workers are part owner that a lot of farmers have taken to ensure that their workers have a stake in the farm by co-ownership (that is broad-based black economic empowerment, massive education, allowing that education, encouraging new investment). Jacob Zuma’s policies are using the complete fig leaf of saying that he wants black inclusion. All he wants is to protect his network that is being massively enriched and anybody who challenges that is a racist, that’s according to him and I don’t buy that nonsense.
Hello, my name is David Kohler. It’s not going to be a long question. It’s an observation and a fear. I worry about the racially divisive editorial policy of our local newspapers and I’m not even going to ask a question, but can I have a few comments from you on that?
Well, the Independent Newspaper Group is the most ironically named group in history because they’ve been bought over by a proxy for Jacob Zuma with public offices pension money from the Public Investment Corporation. They paid R2bn for an almost defunct organisation and it seems that the Iqbal Survè is able to expand and spread his publications with no capital, so I know where that capital’s coming from. It’s obviously like ANN7 and other things, a front for the government and like the New Age, etc.; it’s become a front for the government. When the National Party government did that with a Citizen, it cost a Prime Minister his job, John Vorster fell, Connie Mulder fell, because they used State money and through a front company.
Now that’s exactly through the PIC, the Public Investment Corporation, what Iqbal Survè is doing, but he’s still course of the Independent Newspaper Group and he is a pure ANC rag to destroy anything that is left of a challenge to the opposition. He writes such vituperative and vicious things in that newspaper. I don’t know why anybody still reads it, but they do and we have freedom of the press, so people can read what they like, they can buy what they like, and they can do what they like.
I’ve given that up long ago, but you’ll also know that he hates me very much because I’ve got 1.1-million followers on Twitter and I don’t need to go with these things in the newspaper anymore. I write up my own articles, I send them out as links and I get a hundred times the readership on everything that I write that he gets on what he writes and that’s the great advantage of social media.
We’ve asked Quinton George, the son of Peter George, the founder of ROTOP some 25 years ago, to thank you.
Helen, my father would have been delighted. He probably wouldn’t have let you go so soon. Just as a small gift of appreciation that David’s given you and I really do want to thank you for your bravery, your honesty, your love of truth and for what you’ve written, what you continue to write and I can encourage everybody to go onto Twitter and to link up with Helen, particularly read her article this morning, it’s inspiring and it’ll debunk a lot of this sort of incorrect press and comments that you read, so Helen, we’re lifting your arms up and we’re going to be thinking of you, all of us we’re praying for you and trust in that we’ll see God’s mighty hand upon you and using you as an instrument to change this country. We’ve seen the changes you’ve given all of us in this province, in this city and we just thank you. Thanks very much.
Thank you, thanks very much Quinton and in memory of your dad, Peter. It’s wonderful to see your mum and remember your dad here today.
Helen, finally we’re going to ask Reverend Allan Smith, the Pastor of St Martins, around the corner here, to pray for you.
Cyril Ramaphosa: The Audio Biography
Listen to the story of Cyril Ramaphosa's rise to presidential power, narrated by our very own Alec Hogg.