Helen Zille is a brave woman. If you've not heard of her she is a South African politician, the premier of the Western Cape and the leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA), a political party that stands in opposition to the ruling African National Congress (ANC) of President Jacob Zuma. In her younger days, during the time of the old Apartheid system of white minority rule, she worked as journalist on the Rand Daily Mail.
It was she who exposed the government of the ruling National Party for lying about the death in prison of Steve Biko, the leader of the Black Consciousness movement. Faced with death threats, she was forced to resign. But she fought on in her own courageous fashion, joining Black Sash in the 1980s, a group of white woman campaigning peacefully for human rights in South Africa. After spending some time in prison for being in a black area without a permit, she was forced into hiding with her two-year-old son after the regime, tottering towards its end, declared a state of emergency.
Forget all that. Helen Zille is a racist. She is the boss, the ''madam'', at the head of Nazi-inspired white supremacist party, the old National Party wine in a new political bottle. She is "hell-bent on treating black people as subhuman", on taking the country back to the bad old Apartheid days. Black people considering voting for her Nazi-inspired DA risk angering their ancestors; they will never go to heaven; they risk hastening the death of ex-president Nelson Mandela, the country's secular saint and avatar.
So, you may wonder, what brought on this dramatic transformation, from liberal humanist to virulent racist? That's simple: her party has been making steady gains at the expense of the ANC, cutting into their black constituency, the people who 'belong' to them. So, during last month's municipal elections, out came the race card, played relentlessly by the leaders of the ANC, including Zuma, head of the 'rainbow nation.' No matter; people were not convinced, even black people, as the DA made steady advances in the poll, gaining one in four of the votes cast and retaining control of Cape Town.
The sad truth is that racism is on the rise in South Africa, and it's not white racism. The sheer nastiness of the municipal election campaign shows how sensitive the ANC is to any competition, even though it continues to attract the support of the vast majority of black voters. For a white woman to offer a challenge to their monopoly of power is unacceptable, exposing the limits of their tolerance and the potential weakness of democracy in South Africa.
You see, it's not Helen Zille who is the racist, not her who advances a Nazi-inspired ideology based on exclusiveness and prejudice. No, it's Julius Malema and he's not white - he's black. A fairly notorious character in South African politics, he heads the ANC's youth wing. Last year he visited Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, full of praise for the dictator's 'de-colonialisation' programme, which has all but wrecked the economy of what was once one of the richest countries in Africa. While he was there he entertained his hosts by singing an old war song, calling for the death of white farmers.
But Malema denies being a racist, denies hating white people. It’s just the “quality of whiteness” he hates, to use his own bizarre words. He was even more bizarre when he was in Harare, saying “They are so bright, so colourful, we refer to them as white people. Maybe their colour came as a result of exploiting our minerals and perhaps if some of us get opportunities in these minerals we can develop a nice colour like them.” I hope you can make sense of this gibberish, because I most certainly can’t!
Zille, the conscience of the nation, has faced new death threats, been called a “filthy whore” and “an exponent of a new apartheid” for her outspokenness. But look beyond the villas of the ANC cadres, look beyond the houses and the cars, and one might easily conclude that there is no need for a new apartheid, for the simple reason that the old apartheid is still very much in place; that the new bosses look very much like the old bosses, except for the colour of their skin; that oppression and poverty feel like oppression and poverty no matter if the ruler is white or black.
In many places people still live in squalid townships where the government fails to deliver on the most basic services, including clean water, sanitation and power. Protesters have been dispersed by riot squads using rubber bullets. This is why one in five of the DA's power base is now black, despite all of the obloquy heaped on the movement.
There is something rotten in the state of South Africa, a country where even the mildest criticism of the ruling party is increasingly depicted as racist. Insecure in themselves, saying that such criticism implies that "these darkies are incapable of governing", to quote one minister, they seem to offer no security for a peaceful and harmonious future. Nelson Mandela was the old face of the nation. The new one may turn out to be Julius Malema.