Zille's blonde ambition

Operating full tilt on four hours’ sleep a night, the mayor of Cape Town and leader of the Democratic Alliance licks the sticky icing off her breakfast ­- a Chelsea bun and a cup of Earl Grey tea—as she gets into a white bulletproof BMW in Adderley Street.

If it weren’t for the black windows and the large VIP-bodyguard holding the back door open for Helen Zille, it could be anybody’s guess that the car belongs to a mother of lots of small, dirty children and animals.

Zille’s car ­—an official model on loan since bomb threats against her made driving her own Toyota Prius a security risk—is an unbelievable mess.

Briefly she considers sitting on the piles of files, pieces of paper, pens, paper cups and serviettes, tubes of sunblock and bottled water on the back seat.

She throws the stuff in the boot, saves a small laptop from the heaps of papers and opens the top file that her harassed-looking, hard-smoking media officer hands her.

It’s her itinerary for the day and it lists about 40 appointments, fund-raising events and meetings and is two pages long.

“I love lists.
I make them all the time and get a real kick from ticking off three or four things. Often I wake up at 3am with a very clear head and then I work before falling asleep. It gives me that head start I love.”

Office workers call her name and wave. A taxi driver hoots and somebody shouts “Zill! Zill!”

Capetonians like her. Black people call her “Zill”; the ANC call her racist and anti-poor; the Independent Democrats are too scared to call her anything; and Cope seems to be staying out of her way.

Probably without conscious strategy on her part, Zille strikes discord against the hegemony of the ANC that makes even her enemies take her side, regardless of their political affiliations.

Zille is smart, politically shrewd and ambitious. She’s hardcore when it comes to transparency in governance, the ANC and their crony systems of employment, the Scorpions and criminal charges against Jacob Zuma.

She drives her staff hard and sends them emails and SMSes any time, day and night. They don’t all love her.

Zille lost almost her entire senior bench in Parliament—Sandra Botha, Sheila Camerer and former party head Joe Seremane. Talk that they were pushed out because she doesn’t tolerate opposition or criticism are rife within the DA.

The most recent death threats against Zille were made by taxi owners, presumably because of her central role in the new public transport system slated for 2010. If her driver and bodyguards look a bit worse for wear as a result she’s showing none of their stress.

“I’m more worried about my high cholesterol and my husband not finding out that I eat Kentucky and McDonald’s,” she says. “I don’t like a fuss.”

At the moment Zille is on a roll, oozing energy that verges on mania. Just when you think you have this driven and attractive woman clocked, she comes from left field and leaves those around her reeling.

Her election theme song is Koekie Loekie—a more un-Zille, sexist, Cape Flats tongue-in-cheek tune you can’t imagine. Although she can’t dance like the jintos from the Flats, she puts her head down and shuffles confidently to Whani Jansen and his band, Stofpad. The lyrics go: “Hey Koekie Loekie met jou stywe broekie” (loosely translated as “Hey, lekker Koekie with your little tight-fitting pants”). She sang this during a door-to-door campaign in Mitchells Plain, where the DA took almost 90% of the vote in the recent by-election.

Zille’s a bit scary in that blonde, efficient German kind of way (she is half German). She’s deeply guarded and though she’s pointedly not making any election predictions, she’s probably weeks away from becoming Cape Town’s first white woman premier.

She doesn’t fly business class and frequent flyers say how she sits in the back of a plane while the business class section’s packed with ANC-office bearers.

She recently had a water meter installed at her house. She scoffs at the Mercs and Volvos on offer, preferring her eco-wise Prius.

Two years short of 60, she doesn’t carry an ounce of fat. Today she wears jeans, white tekkies and a blue DA T-shirt and ticks off her lists of people to see on her door-to-door campaign in the Cape Flats.

In Mitchells Plain Zille is royalty. People hang around her neck, foist their babies on to her and though she puts her hand on their heads, she doesn’t kiss them. “This baby-kissing election stuff is too much. I don’t do it,” she says at a crèche in Beacon Valley, where the school teachers say they’re “voting DA duidelik [clearly]”.

“We have two choices in this election. Either we have a magstaat—for which there is no English word—or you have a regstaat.

“In a magstaat democracy the institutions of the state are subverted by protecting the interest of the ruling party. Democracy is about limiting the power of politicians and holding them accountable.

“Don’t fool yourself thinking that this election is about anything else. You’re voting for a magstaat or a regstaat. You can’t vote for the ANC. Come on,” Zille says, taking a sip of water after four hours of door-to-dooring. “And no, I’m not hungry. There’s no time to eat now.”

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