Sunday, November 16, 2008

Interview with Helen Zille at the re-launch of the DA

Helen Zille, leader of the Democratic Alliance, speaks to QPQ at the party's re-launch. She argues that from now on the DA will be concerned with governance, no longer confined to merely an opposition role. Bold promises, but can she deliver? David Ansara attempts to find out.

DA: This is David Ansara for Quid Pro Quo. We’re here with Helen Zille, two weeks after the South African National Convention when we spoke to her last. So tell us Helen, what is the significance of today? Explain this re-launch of the Democratic Alliance to us.

HZ: Today, the significance of our re-launch is to say the DA is a party of government. We’re not only a party of opposition, we’re a party that can be in government, has the best policies in government [that offers leadership] for all of the people, not just some of the people.

Our core values remain the same, freedom within the Constitution, equality of opportunity, responsibility; all of those are core values. We are committed to diversity and we’re committed to reflecting that diversity much more in the future. We want to convince every South African, and give them comfort that we will continue to stand up for everybody’s rights, their language rights, their cultural rights, their heritage, so that they can feel strong in the knowledge that they alone don’t have to fight their corner, and that everyone else stands with them and so that we stand up for each other. That’s the significance of what we are doing today.

DA: When the Democratic Alliance announced that this re-launch was going to be happening in your press release earlier in the week, you were quite frank about some of the limitations and some of the problems that you have experienced in attracting all South Africans to the party. What exactly is the DA going to be doing to try and attract South Africans from across the racial and class spectrum?

HZ: We are going to be the party that we claimed to be. We are going to reflect those values, we are going to show every body that merit means diversity, that diversity is part of merit, that we enrich each other, that we advance each other, that we defend each other and that we debate with each other and differ from each other within the constitution [and] the law. That is what we signify and no minority needs to stand up in a corner and feel threatened and marginalized because we will defend everybody’s rights together for each other, with each other.

DA: I was quite struck by the video presentation. One of the things that stood out for me is this nostalgia for the previous decade, for the heady days of the 1990s. How do you think we have lost sight of some that vision from that period? What’s gone wrong and how can we reclaim those dreams that you talk about?

HZ: What went wrong was that the ANC became a racial nationalist party. They started becoming a party for a few and not for many. They started a deployment policy that made people’s chances dependent on their links with powerful people in government. People couldn’t use their opportunities because their opportunities didn’t make a difference. It was who you knew, not what you could do. And that is the most fundamental problem. The ANC became a closed, patronage-driven organization for some with political connections. And that’s why today we are reviving the dream of the open, opportunity driven society for all. That is the South African dream.

DA: I’m looking at this brand new logo. Talk us through it. What’s the symbolism behind it, the colours?

HZ: Well, the symbolism is actually very simple. We wanted to have something that looked like a new dawn. So we wanted a morning sun and we have the morning sun rising over the rainbow. A feel-good logo.

DA: Call me cynical, but it reminds me quite a lot of the Obama logo, the sun rising, the rainbow. Is there an intended parallel there?

HZ: Well, there was no intended parallel, when I found out I was delighted by the coincidence because in fact somebody said to me after we had already worked on the logo and agreed on the logo “My goodness, it looks quite a lot like the Obama logo.” So I went onto the internet and looked at the Obama logo and I was very pleased that there was enough of a difference. His is red and blue and has completely different kinds of symbolism, ours is the morning sun over the rainbow.

DA: So how did you try and change it from the last logo, what was wrong with it?

HZ: There was nothing wrong per se with the last logo, it was just becoming stale, a little bit old and it had been put together by two officials in half an hour chatting together about whatever they wanted to see. Here we had some serious advice by people who know how to do these things; we had the idea and they did the concept for us.

DA: The last time I spoke to you, Ms. Zille, was at the South African National Convention.

HZ: Yes.

DA: And a lot of people are saying that this is an attempt by the DA to remind the electorate that they are still around after the new party has emerged on the scene. What would you say to that?

HZ: The coincidence of the Congress of the People was exactly that: just a coincidence. This event today was based on nine months of research, of planning, of sifting through that research material, of understanding what the voters are saying, how we mesh that with our animating values, our principles and our policies. And this was on the cards all of the time. It was quite unexpected that there would be a breakaway from the ANC before the election. We were going to do this at this time in our election planning and in our re-visioning of the party as a whole.

DA: I just have one question. You spoke about the benefit of a market-driven economy. And given the current crisis in the global financial scene, is the market still something that you feel is the engine-room of an economy or is the more developmental statist approach beginning to gather more credence?

HZ: If you look at my speech you will see that I say “an economy driven by the market, appropriately regulated.”

DA: Yes.

HZ: There are rules and checks and balances for every sector of society. If politicians can abuse their power, so can bankers, so can the market. We believe in rules for everybody and we believe in appropriate regulations. We believe that the state does have a role in the economy and in the real developmental state, which was pioneered in Japan, the state had a key role. They had the best people in the state, with the brightest minds, who made it easier for economic growth to happen through the market – and that’s the ideal.

So it’s not the incompetent state, meddling in the market and trying to pick winners. That was a perversion of the concept. So yes we do believe in the market, we believe it is the only mechanism that can generate sustainable growth, but we don’t believe that bankers or financial institutions should be above the rules or the law. That is why we supported the Credit Act in South Africa, which made it impossible for banks to lend money to people who could not afford to repay those loans - unlike in America. We fully supported that regulation because we felt it was appropriate.

DA: Alright, Ms. Zille, thank you very much for speaking with Quid Pro Quo.

HZ: It’s always a great pleasure. Thank you.


Photo by Jared Jeffrey.


  1. Apologies about the wind in some parts. I really need to get a new microphone (preferably one with puffy thing on the end!)

  2. Another great interview. I thought you where more confident and insightful then in your last interview with Helen. I am glad that you called her out for poaching from Obama. I am pretty sure that her design team was aware of his logo even if she was not. Either way it is good to be associated with the new President elect.

  3. Ja, I heard plenty of feeble "yes-we-can"s from the audience so there was a fair amount of Obama plagiarism going on.

    But the DA also really has to believe that it can take power in order to boost their support. The emphasis on governance is wise and if they can capture the W.Cape it will put them in a good position to substantiate these claims.

    I think it's wise to try to tap into a patriotic sentiment among people who have lost sight of some of the ambition of the immediate transition years but still love SA. Having the SA colours in the logo is clever in this regard. (Although I have a feeling that COPE is also using this strategy).