An open letter to Helen Zille

Date: January 1, 1970
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I sit at my desk moving between anger and complete disbelief. I see your derogatory comments on President Zuma’s cabinet and your subsequent declaration that the the central government’s policies and practices will not dictate in the Western Cape. According to you, the policies and principles of the Democratic Alliance (DA) will govern the Western Cape.

Just as an aside what are exactly are these alternative policies and principles?
Back to the point, what bona fides do you have to hold the president accountable? Not that I am a loyal, uncritical, unquestioning supporter of President Zuma. Based on his past actions, including lack of judgment and being a practicing polygamist, which is intrinsically prejudicial to women, the jury is still out on the president.
The African National Congress (ANC) has many questions they have to answer that go beyond the representation of women by numbers. A question, for example, such as: what motivated the formation of a Ministry for Women, Youth, Children and People with Disabilities?
Will this ministry be able to coherently address of any of target groups, each of whom require unique, multi-faceted interventions? Women are linked with children yet again, when in reality women and children have very different needs.
However, on the other hand, you have proven to have feet of clay. You have appointed an all male cabinet but for yourself – a primarily white male cabinet. In my view, you have just taken South Africa backwards both in terms of race and gender.
As a black South African woman, I am appalled that a structure in this country meant to live the constitution, that entrenches equality between women and men and all races, can be 75% white, 73% white male and 91% male. What hope is there for a political party that in its actions shows that it is not committed to change or transformation?
The justification provided was that these men are the best people for the job. So, let’s look at that. What criteria determined that these men were best? Do you have a list?
Some of the candidates selected have experience in their fields, but not everyone – so how did you select them as the best people for the job? (see table below)
  • Theuns Botha, MEC Health, has no health experience in his bio.
  • Ivan Meyer was a lecturer at Stellenbosch University until this election, now MEC for Social Development.
  •  Donald Grant has an impressive amount of experience in the private sector, but no experience in education, and is now MEC Education.
  • Sakkie Jenner, ID appointee to the Western Cape Cabinet, has no experience in the arts and culture sector in his bio.

The real question is: were there no women in the DA or ID list qualified to run any of these portfolios? This is a serious indictment of the skills and abilities of the women on these lists. Is it only Helen Zille who is capable and possessed of the skills to govern?

A glaring absence in all these biographies is any work or projects relating to gender or women’s rights. I understand that the DA ideology commits itself to all South Africans. However, we are not homogenous. South Africans are found in many different places living many different realities.
The majority of women’s realities are characterised by the highest levels of poverty, highest burden of care, least access to the mainstream economy, inadequate provision of basic needs, and little access to decision-making structures.
Government programmes must have multiple target groups and different interventions based on the realities on the ground. To continuously fall back on the position that the DA responds to all citizens and therefore cannot have specific gender provisions is too simplistic.
How will this new cabinet ensure that gender mainstreaming in their policies? Will gender feature on the Western Cape government agenda? Most important, who will represent the voices of the women in the province?
The other tragedy of this particular event is the creation of a political football field where the game is being played in the most unethical manner possible, including criticisms leveled by yourself against President Zuma about his sexual behaviours.
This criticism is not unfounded, technically he did expose his wives to HIV and AIDS after having unprotected sex with someone who is HIV positive. Was the further assertion of him being a “womaniser with deeply sexist views” [1] necessary?
The ANC Youth League response calling you a “girl” and accusing you of “… appointing boyfriends and concubines…” to the Western Cape cabinet so you “can continue to sleep around with them,”[2] is detrimental to the political health of the country. Name-calling and diatribes from any party or institution is not useful.
Let us rather use the structures that we have in this country to deal with these situations. The Congress of SA Trade Unions (COSATU)’s plan to take the DA to the Equality Court is a constructive way of dealing with the appointment of a primarily male, white cabinet.
As a maturing democracy, citizens have a right to expect better of the parties we put in power. Rather than mud slinging, parties should raise debate and address real issues such as:
  • Should there be legislated quotas to ensure that all the parties participating in elections commit to fielding equal numbers of women and men in elections in a zebra list which means one woman one man appearing sequentially, also that this commitment will follow through in appointments at all levels of government?
  • Does polygamy have a place in our maturing democracy? What does having polygamous head of state mean for the government gender agenda?
  • The new Ministry for Women, Youth, Children and People with disabilities has been set up against the back drop of a dysfunctional Commission on Gender Equality and Office on the Status of Women. How can we ensure that all the structures that are in place to promote gender equality are strong, dynamic and effective?
  • How does the South African government plan to meet the 28 targets set out in the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development. Targets include achieving fifty%  representation of women in all levels of decision making by 2015 and halving gender violence in the within the same time frame.
These are some of the real questions at hand.
Kubi Rama
Deputy Director, Gender Links

[2] Citizen, ANC lashes Zille over Zuma zap, p.3, 13 May 2009


Specific experience
Gender experience
Theuns Botha (Health)
Farmer, businessman, local councilor, executive mayor
None mentioned in bio
None mentioned in bio
Gerrit van Rensburg (Agriculture)
Farmer, Minister of Agriculture in 1999-2001 in the Western Cape
13-15 years experience in the agricultural sector
None mentioned in bio
Lennit Max (Community Safety)
Provincial Police Commissioner of the Western Cape, DA spokesperson on Community Safety
None mentioned in bio
Robin Carlisle (Transport and Public Works)
Member of the Provincial AIDS Council, activist opposing Group Areas removals
DA spokesperson on Transport and Public Works and on Corruption
None mentioned in bio
Ivan Meyer (Social Development)
Senior lecturer in Public Policy and Local Governance University of Stellenbosch up to his election
None mentioned in bio
None mentioned in bio
Alan Winde (Finance, Economic Development and Tourism)
Chief whip of the official opposition in the Western Cape, local councillor
Western Cape Provincial Finance Chairman, entrepreneur
None mentioned in bio
Anton Bredell (Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning)
Chairperson of the Western Cape DA Mayoral Forum
Executive mayor Swartland Municipality
None mentioned in bio
Bonginkosi Madikizela (Housing)
Communications officer and spokesperson Cape Town mayor’s office, worked as computer trainer
Chairperson of the Khayelitsha Development Forum
None mentioned in bio
Donald Grant (Education)
28 years experience in the private sector
None mentioned in bio
None mentioned in bio
Sakkie Jenner (Cultural Affairs and Sport)
Activist movements, unionist, area manager in Berg River Municipality
None mentioned in bio
None mentioned in bio

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