Woman leader attacks Zuma for failing to stem corruption
“As I look back on Zuma’s first 100 days, it’s clear we are increasingly a lone voice against government corruption”
“The ANC has squandered what we believe to be in excess of a billion rand [£70m] on perks”
As South Africa’s president, Jacob Zuma, prepares to mark his first 100 days in power, Helen Zille, leader of the main opposition party, has attacked lavish ministerial spending by his government, claiming that a culture of despotism and cronyism could drag the country down to the corrupt level of its neighbours.
Zille, head of the Democratic Alliance (DA) party, said that Zuma is failing to stem the abuse of taxpayers’ money as his country enters the worst recession in its history.
“As I look back on Zuma’s first 100 days, it’s clear we are increasingly a lone voice against government corruption,” said Zille, 58, in an interview with The Sunday Times.
“The ANC has squandered what we believe to be in excess of a billion rand [£70m] on perks. Look at the figure – it’s truly shocking – money spent on grace-and-favour homes for cabinet ministers’ wives and families, Range Rovers and Mercedes, town and country cars for them in Pretoria and Cape Town.
“The culture in South African politics has long been one of kickbacks, bribes and noses in the trough, but with an expanded cabinet, with no fewer than 62 ministers and deputy ministers, it’s costing the taxpayer a fortune.
“Telling the truth is not racism,” insisted Zille, who has faced death threats and toxic abuse from the African National Congress Youth League, the firebrand political body created by Nelson Mandela that recently called her “a filthy whore” and “the exponent of a new apartheid”.
Yet as a journalist she helped to expose the murder of Steve Biko, the imprisoned black freedom fighter, and helped the fight against apartheid that ultimately installed Mandela as president. In the 1980s she was a leader of the Black Sash women’s resistance movement.
As a leading white politician in a country where politics are now defined by “black issues”, Zille surprised the world by winning the Western Cape legislature for her DA party at the general election.
Formed when the Democratic party entered into a short-lived alliance with the New National party (NNP) and a smaller party in 2000, the DA has its roots in the white antiapartheid movement of the 1980s. It has since become the only mainstream voice of opposition. Many blacks voted for Zille’s anticorruption stand that prevented Zuma’s ANC from securing a landslide.
“Race understandably defines politics in modern South Africa, so if I speak out against government corruption, against overspending and cronyism within the ANC, it’s labelled as racism. If I criticise Jacob Zuma’s personal life, I am a racist. It’s an easy moniker for organisations like the ANC Youth League to throw at me. But it’s pitiable.”
According to Zille, the privileges of government ministers, from armies of state-subsidised domestic workers, imported limousines, private VIP lounges at airports, five-star hotel suites, luxury Blue Train rides and limitless corporate credit cards, have to be radically curtailed because of the recession.
“The government must demonstrate that it is prepared to make sacrifices. We only have to look at the vehicle provisions for these ministers, about R2.3m for two cars for a minister: Range Rovers, Lexuses, Jaguars, Mercedes, the list goes on,” she said.
“This is an insult to the voters who put their faith in Zuma, people in the townships who have never sat in an air-conditioned car and barely have a roof over their heads or education for their children.”
In the Western Cape, Zille has told members of the local congress to use the government car pool and she claims to be using one of its “old Mercs”. The official car she used as mayor of Cape Town was a hybrid Prius, now being used by her successor. “We have to practise what we preach,” she said. “Jacob Zuma recently had a 33-vehicle security convoy on a provincial visit. You don’t need an accountant to tell you that is excessive.”
The ANC claims Zille’s suggestion that Africa’s biggest economy could crumble under the weight of corruption and despotism, like so many other African countries, is laughably wide of the mark. Democratic institutions remain robust and, as a member of the G20, South Africa sits at the high table of world politics.
Yet many white and coloured South Africans now share the “disillusionment, resentment and rage tinged with despair”, of which André Brink, the Afrikaans author and former antiapartheid campaigner, wrote recently.
Since the ANC first came to power in 1994, an estimated 750,000 whites have left South Africa, taking their core skills with them. Only 4.5m whites remain, representing 9% of the population.
Zille claims crime has been one of the key reasons for the brain drain, but also points to the dominance of the ANC and growing corruption as a powerful factor.
Whites are not alone in their pessimism. “We’re in a bad place at the moment in this country,” lamented Desmond Tutu, the former Archbishop of Cape Town and Nobel peace prize winner.
Since Zuma was elected and a string of corruption and rape allegations against him were dropped, he has been ever present on South African television, dressed in bright yellow ANC T-shirt and sunglasses, belting out his Umshini Wami (Bring Me My Machinegun) theme song to his adoring black supporters.
“He turns up at rallies and functions with abandon, he sings and dances, but he is a figurehead,” said Zille. “He is a proxy president. The country is being run by the central committee of the ANC. We have a wonderful constitution but we need to move away from identity politics.
“The DA is the most nonracial party in South Africa and the magnificent thing is that the voters of the Western Cape have led the way in the crusade against identity politics.
“I may never be president as a white woman, but the progress we are making is giving us all heart."