White Woman Shakes Up S. Africa Politics

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), June 7, 2009 | Go to article overview
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White Woman Shakes Up S. Africa Politics


Byline: Clare Nullis Associated Press

CAPE TOWN, South Africa Helen Zille has a sharp tongue and a short fuse, and she doesnt dodge a fight. In apartheid times she enraged South Africas white rulers, and lately she has ruffled South Africas black political establishment.

Having won plaudits as mayor of Cape Town, she is now leader of the main opposition and her provinces premier a striking example of democracy at work in a country that is ruled by blacks but leaves room for white politicians like Zille.

In the April provincial election, Zille won just over 51 percent of the vote to seize control of the wealthy Western Cape province from the African National Congress, breaking the ruling partys monopoly on power. In voting for the national parliament, her Democratic Alliance partys share rose to nearly 17 percent and helped deny the ANC its coveted two-thirds majority.

Now the 58-year-old workaholic says her goal is to run Western Cape so well that voters will be persuaded to ditch the ANC in other provinces.

"The Western Cape will set an example for democracy for South Africa," she told cheering supporters after the results were announced.

Thats a tall order, given that her Democratic Alliance is still perceived as mainly white and most black South Africans are loyal to the ANC which liberated them from oppression. Zille says that 15 years after apartheid formally ended, race no longer should dominate politics.

But the ANC has responded sourly to losing the Western Cape. No sooner had Zille announced her Cabinet than the ruling party was complaining that it was all-male, mainly white and therefore out of touch. Zille hit back by reminding South Africans that their new president, the ANCs Jacob Zuma, had a blemished record where women were concerned.

"The ANC does not take electoral defeat lying down," Zille said. "Instead they use every trick imaginable to reverse the voters choice. We are ready for them."

"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 countrys biggest problems. The role of the opposition is to break that silence.

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