The failure of the DA to bring Zille to task whenever she paints the organisation in a bad light gave an impression of a leader who was bigger than the organisation. The DA’s collective leadership created an impression of the organisation needing Zille more than she needed the organisation. The inability to discipline Zille generated an environment in which it was conducive for her to run amok, writes Matlala Setlhalogile
The concept of ego has become synonymous with the male species. It has somehow become instinctive to think of men whenever the subject of ego is brought up. However, all genders, to an extent, have egos. Women too can be egomaniacs. The Democratic Alliance’s Helen Zille is a pretty good exhibit of such.
It is an undisputable fact that Zille has led the DA through a period of significant growth with regards to electoral support. The figures speak for themselves. Since the 1994 elections, the DA has achieved momentous growth at the polls. From a meagre 1.7% in 1994 to a substantial 22.23% in the 2014 national and provincial elections. After Zille’s election as the party’s leader in 2007, the DA experienced an exponential growth in its electoral support. The DA’s electoral support increased from 12.37% in 2004 to 16.66% in 2009. This is an increase of more than four percentage points, an increase of almost 35% from 2004 to 2009. In addition to this, the 2016 local government elections indicated that more voters are beginning to be content with the DA as the alternative to the ANC.
It is unimaginable how any individual could not pride themselves in overseeing any organisation through such a glorious period. The DA’s achievement over the past decade is commendable. However, to solely credit a single individual with the DA’s momentous electoral support gains would be disingenuous. The DA has steadily been making significant electoral gains since 1994. There are a number of factors that could be attributed to this, among those are; (i) the merger of three parties that ultimately led to what we now refer to as the DA, (ii) the repositioning of the organisation as a modern political party, (iii) the organisation’s superior governance track record, and (iv) the ANC’s fumbles.
It is no rocket science that a coming together of three formations will in all likelihood increase the support base. The DA itself acknowledges that the merger between the three organisations (the Democratic Party (DP), the Federal Alliance (FA) and the New National Party (NNP)) was intended to achieve exactly that. Secondly, the DA has over the years, bolstered by its rebranding, repositioned itself to be a modern political organisation. Thirdly, the DA, in comparison to other political organisations, has a better record of good governance in jurisdictions it governs. This has significance, particularly in attracting modern voters. Lastly, the ANC’s self-inflicted and continuous woes have led to some voters seeking alternatives.
It is without a doubt that the increase in electoral support can be attributed to several factors. However, it will also be sinister to deny the role and influence of the party leader. Despite a number of factors being favourable to the DA’s quest for growth, the party still needed to be led effectively. Notwithstanding the fact that it takes a collective to lead any organisation, particularly a political party that is hell-bent on cementing its place as the opposition of choice and ultimately making a serious challenge for national government, the role of individual leaders at the helm cannot be discarded.
Helen Zille led the DA effectively and in doing so enabling the party to reposition itself as a modern alternative to the ANC. Zille, despite her shortcomings, was a strong leader that reflected the DA’s position in priding itself as a party with a track record of good governance, limited mismanagement of public funds and limited corruption. In spite of her reasonably decent track record as the DA’s leader, she was responsible for bringing the party into disrepute on numerous occasions. Such occasions include, among others, the referral to learners from the Eastern Cape as refugees and labelling people professional blacks. It is her tendency to put her foot in her mouth that was, and still is, a challenge for the DA.
Most significantly though, the inability of the DA to bring her to task whenever she brought the party into disrepute was the critical challenge. The failure of the DA to bring Zille to task whenever she paints the organisation in a bad light gave an impression of a leader who was bigger than the organisation. The DA’s collective leadership created an impression of the organisation needing Zille more than she needed the organisation. The inability to discipline Zille generated an environment in which it was conducive for her to run amok. A personality cult of sorts was engineered. Power shifted from the organisation towards an individual.
This shift in power has been quite solidified over the years. As a result thereof, Zille’s ego knows no bounds. Zille might not be at the helm of the DA anymore, but her personality cult still persists. The persistence of the personality cult and the customary failure to hold Zille accountable for her unwarranted conduct pose a subtle, yet significant danger to the DA. Zille’s ego, manifesting through her continued tendency to engage in inexcusable demeanour, is likely to negate Mmusi Maimane’s leadership.
It should be worrisome to the DA by now that Maimane is already perceived, in some sectors, as a shadow leader. Maimane’s election was described, by some, as fronting. Zille’s personality cult and her rogue ways that continue unabated do not help in dispelling this prominent perception.
The recent remarks by Zille that colonialism had some good aspects, together with the subsequent initial refusal to retract the remarks and apologise exhibits the arrogance of Zille. More than her arrogance, the incident shows that Zille believes she is exempted from the prescripts of the organisation.
Zille ultimately agreed to issue an apology. The apology was construed as a sign that she may be finally putting the party first. Beyond the apology, Zille was supposedly suspended from all party activities. This was a significant exercise on the part of the DA as it sought to assert Maimane’s leadership and curb Zille’s rouge tendencies. The party also sought to showcase accountability.
However, Zille’s recent campaigning for the DA in the Milnerton by-elections has reversed the significant gains made through the press briefing on June 13. The exercise now comes across as a smokescreen. More significantly, Zille’s recent campaigning for the DA indicates that the supposed suspension from party activities is ineffective or that she is simply pulling a Helen Zille i.e. being bigger than the organisation. Additionally, the campaigning indicates that Maimane’s authority counts for nothing.
If Zille continues to exhibit this level of arrogance, it will fuel the perception of Maimane as a shadow leader. Consequently, Zille’s antics will compromise the legitimacy of Maimane’s leadership. Maimane’s legitimacy might not necessarily be due to his own doing, but a leader that cannot exert authority over all party members cannot bode well for the DA. Perception plays a critical role in politics, and Zille’s continued antics intensifies the perception of Maimane as a fronting token.
Setlhalogile is a Political Science lecturer at Pearson Institute of Higher Education. He is also an independent Political Risk Analyst and Researcher. This article was first appeared in www.kunjalod.com