πŸ”’ BN Confidential: Now THAT’S the Helen Zille we know. Welcome back.

By Alec Hogg

I was delighted to read Helen Zille’s tell-all piece which we republished on Biznews.

It exposes a rather different persona to the one we’ve seen flaying at anyone on the opposite side of her view of the world. Indeed, the courageous activist I admired from the other side of the Rand Daily Mail newsroom, seems to be back to old herself.
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Zille has returned to following the advice of the inestimable Berkshire chairman Warren E Buffett who encourages us to trumpet failures and whisper about our successes. Now, with the shackles of the Western Cape premiership removed, she is also able to return to speaking truth. Not just to power.

The “new” Helen expressed herself in the first of a series of articles she has has been commissioned to write for the Sunday newspaper Rapport – the one which, with the permission of our friends at Politicsweb, is also now on Biznews.

Rapport’s street pole banners enticed would-be newspaper buyers by shouting out how the post-Zille leadership at the political party she built tried to banish her abroad. Eye-catching and clearly designed to create outrage among the newspaper’s target audience.

But as you’ll agree when actually reading the piece, the thrust of Zille’s narrative is rather different: she highlights her “greatest failure” was getting into the “race narrative arena”. And admits this miscalculation more than any other, caused her beloved Democratic Alliance to lose its way.

Gone is the attempt to ignore the wounds inflicted on the DA by its traditional supporters on May 8. No more attempts to reject data which shows hundreds of thousands who voted for her party at the provincial level switched their votes to Cyril Ramaphosa at the national level.

Buffett himself would be proud of this new-found authenticity.Β As should the rest of us.

Because it highlights something really significant: The precious ability of South Africa’s best leaders to reflect and re-set. This atypical (for politicians everywhere else) approach is one of South Africa’s unappreciated but most valuable assets.

It is a quality which provides collective hope that this is a country which continues to overcome impossible odds. And encourage us to believe it is indeed possible to accomplish the enormous challenge of rebuilding the nation reeling after Zuma’s destructive decade.

The value of this unusual quality has become increasingly clearer for me as I get deeper into one of my two big projects of the moment – creating the audiobook of Anthony Butler’s updated biography on Cyril Ramaphosa.

Butler’s lengthy treatise, updated for the first time in a decade, is a masterful work. It helps us better understand the man charged with leading SA’s recovery and is also a reminder of the pragmatism which has typified the country’s recent political progress.

It is easy to forget the official ANC stance just months before the start of SA’s miraculous negotiated settlement, was a Syria-like approach to “smash the apartheid government to smithereens” no matter what the cost.

So heavily were members indoctrinated in this Soviet-instilled hardline that imprisoned Nelson Mandela was initially branded a sell-out simply because he responded to PW Botha’s call to negotiate. But common sense eventually prevailed as cooler heads won the day. As it usually does in this volatile country.

Such pragmatism is more valuable than ever right now with a narrative set by SA’s often courageous but now financially pressurised popular press. Sadly, economic pressures have a way of encouraging a default to sensationalism.

That approach is reflected not just in the Zille banner, but the mass media’s tendency to afford greater weight to those who feed an alternative-reality monster. And a tendency for reporters to regurgitate rather than challenge increasingly absurd statements by “newsmakers” of the media’s own creation.

This continuous barrage of sensationalism has had a predictable impact on what should be the “informed” members of our society. Fuelling an often emotion-driven wave of emigration that bears little relationship to relative prospects of the countries involved.

My sense of all this has been sharpened after our return from three years abroad.

When we left in May 2016 on our temporary assignment to establish a Biznews foothold abroad, South Africa was in the vice of a Zuptoid nightmare. Zuma was proceeding towards landing the nation with a trillion rand nuclear power debt to Russia. And so confident in his power that he even spoke publicly about the national benefits of a dictatorship, his of course.

It was a full year before any material cracks began appearing, primarily through the miraculous appearance of the GuptaLeaks hard drive which confirmed much of what had previously only been rumoured. Only from that moment onwards did the tide turn. And pragmatic as ever, those lawmakers who had continuously voted for Zuma in numerous No Confidence votes slowly began switching sides.

The damage to the national psyche, however, has been considerable.

It strikes me that instead of celebrating that there are three Commissions of Inquiry exposing malfeasance of the Zuma era, many otherwise rational people whom I engage with use what is emerging to cement already hardened pessimism.

But such is the way of the crowd. And as the same Warren E Buffett reminds us, life rewards those who walk the quiet roads of unpopular opinion, and apply their own unemotional logic. For me, the present provides such a rare opportunity to benefit from rejecting the madness of the crowd.