Heads up, it's Helen Zille

Helen Zille. (David Harrison, M&G)

Helen Zille. (David Harrison, M&G)

Penguin Books has announced that the poster child for the white middle class, Helen Zille, has just signed a book deal.

The book will be an account of the former Democratic Alliance leader’s life in politics as well as contain insights into her personal life – off the top of my head, excerpts containing information of a more a personal nature might include details about life in Constantia, the rise to power, perhaps a couple of sentences on Labradors or – just pets in general – and her children.

It’s easy enough to make fun of Helen Zille. It always has been. The politician often makes herself an easy target, starting with her Twitter feed. Zille is known to be a bit trigger happy when it comes to those mere 140 characters. Other incidents of mockery have taken place with regards to her choice of attire when it comes to the State of the Nation address for example, or that time she cooked in a big pot wearing a do-rag (why? ... because Helen), kissing Mamphela Ramphele on the lips, toyi-toying and dropping the venac at rallies to appeal to a majority demographic and win over trust. Then there’s the finger pointing and laughter that’s inspired by her plastic surgery and hairstyle (we’ve all done it – often forgetting that a man’s appearance would probably not be a target for jest. Except of course in the case of Donald Trump. In the South African context, Helen is a close second).

And now, there’s the news of her book. When the announcement became public, Twitter targeted the DA trooper once again. This time, jokes and jabs were accompanied by the hashtag #namezillesmemoir. This doesn’t sound funny by itself. In fact, perhaps if the trend involved another politician, the tag might have been accompanied by content of a more serious nature. However, in this case, book name suggestions leaned heavily toward the “let’s take a jab at Helen” side of things.

Again, too easy. No matter how hard we try (and I did try), it’s hard to get away from the idea of Helen Zille. She just cannot be taken seriously in the political context. And no, I am not saying that there isn’t support for her out there but a quick audience study on the Twitter platform proves that support is very little. No one (in my search for example), tweeted book suggestions like: Helen Zille, my hero and inspiration – or whatever. Upon seeing the trend, I myself was overwhelmed by possible book titles. 

Here are a few that came to mind: 

  • The ineffective use of toy-toying in inappropriate places 
  • To do, or not to do-rag – my life in appropriation 
  • There’s a white on your stoep 
  • The chronicles of Helen: The hair, the witch and the wardrobe 
  • Helen Zille: Why don’t you like me? 
  • Zille: The person behind the propaganda.

Now I’m not saying that any of these are good or particularly clever, I’m merely trying to illustrate how one doesn’t ever have to think too hard when it comes to making fun of old Helen.

But after some thought, I urge you to do so. When I thought about it in a responsible way, I certainly did. Here’s the thing, a quick Google search proved to me that the library of memoirs by politicians is filled almost entirely by men. I tried refining the search a few times, and at best the only thing that peaked at me at the top of a Google search was Margaret Thatcher’s memoir (a bit obvious that one). The rest of many lists of top memoirs by politicians that I visited comprised of men: George W Bush, Churchill, Obama, etc. 

Now it’s probably fair to say that when whoever announced that those memoirs would be published, they were probably not immune to some mockery themselves. I don’t see how anyone can’t make fun of a memoir by Bush, for example, especially since books tend to contain words, and well … we all know how great he is at using those (yes, I know, he had an editor but the joke is obvious).

And in the case of Helen Zille, make fun all you want, but consider that as a woman in politics (albeit a white one) which is difficult enough (see the point I made above about making fun of her appearance), she should be admired to an extent for adding another female politician voice to a genre and category (like many in the world) that is dominated by men.

Haji Mohamed Dawjee is the social media accounts director at Ogilvy PR

Haji Mohamed Dawjee

Haji Mohamed Dawjee

Haji Mohamed Dawjee is the social media accounts director at Ogilvy PR. She was previously the deputy digital news editor and social media editor at the Mail & Guardian. Haji has an honours degree in journalism from the University of Stellenbosch and continues to write columns for the M&G. Read more from Haji Mohamed Dawjee


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