/ 26 February 2014

Khaya Dlanga: Zille is a workhorse, not a leader

DA leader Helen Zille.
DA leader Helen Zille.

I think the Democratic Alliance's Helen Zille is a terrific manager. She seems to like getting involved and things done. I have never observed her working but there's no doubt that she is a workhorse. Just because I won't be voting for her doesn't mean that I shouldn't be praising her for her good qualities.

I think it is disingenuous of politicians to criticise their opponents all the time without ever praising them for the good they do. Praising them does not take away from the political party one has decided to vote for. It is no secret who I have decided to vote for.

Zille's inability to rise above the fray has been exposed many times, especially on Twitter. She picked on and fought with a journalist on the social network for two days. Two whole days. The stamina to do that is absolutely astounding. 

For those who might not know, Zille went on a tirade on Twitter against City Press journalist Carien du Plessis, accusing her of one-sided, inaccurate and unprofessional journalism. Just some of the things she tweeted were: "Criticising biased, unprofessional and inaccurate journalism does NOT undermine media freedom. It promotes it." 

"Carien is so desperate to hide the Missus class she comes from. Shame."

Then the worst one: "She is so scared that she would be doomed by her own skin colour that she is bending over backwards to prove her political correctness." 

Zille obviously believes that Du Plessis has a particular point of view simply because she is white, and articulating any point of view that is contrary to that which expounds and protects white privilege is a betrayal of the white race. Perhaps that is too harsh, but it is how I interpreted it. To Zille, Du Plessis hates being white and is ashamed of it and the evidence of this for Zille is how Du Plessis reported about the Democratic Alliance's manifesto launch.

Zille likes to talk about how the ANC racialises South African politics but her tweets to Du Plessis were doing that same thing. 

Zille is a manager not a leader. A manager reacts, while a leader considers the bigger picture. A great leader will not fall into the temptation of reactionism. They will not make the argument about them even if the attacks seem to be against them. 

The example I like to use of showing leadership when one could have easily have become a manager is of US President Barack Obama when he was running for president the first time around. In March 2008, videos of Obama's former preacher in Chicago, Illinois, surfaced and were looped all over 24-hour news channels. In a sermon, Reverend Jeremiah Wright basically said America deserved what happened to it on September 11 2001. The Republicans had a field day. Obama was leading in the polls and was on his way to beating Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. Wright's sermons seemed to paint his congregation as a bunch of black people who hate white America. Since Obama was a member of the church, he was by implication a supporter of the incendiary remarks. 

Obama could have easily addressed the reverend and his relationship with him and then discarded him. He could have attacked the news networks for playing a video clip and a sermon completely out of context. Instead he decided to address a larger issue: race in America and why Wright saw the world the way he did. 

Then he addressed the reverend's church, Trinity. "Like other black churches, Trinity's services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humour. They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear. The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America."

Then he went on to educate America about race. He did not go on a tirade at all. "The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright's sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning."

Zille has demonstrated she is not a leader but a manager over and over again. A great one at that. Perhaps she may be the best to lead the DA more than anyone else right now.

If I were president, I would not hesitate to offer her the post of minister of education even though she is the leader of the opposition. She is passionate about education. She was hands-on as MEC for education in the Western Cape. She has all the qualities needed to work on a task, but she is not a good leader at all. 

To be fair, South Africa has a leadership deficit. We need to develop leaders as a country who have a bigger view of the world than picking unnecessary fights. We need leaders who can identify the important things to fight for. Aggression is not leadership.

Leadership is knowing what is important and focusing on that and not falling for every single distraction that comes your way.