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Has it been worth it? Interview with Hellen Zille about the World Cup 0

CAPE TOWN – “I don’t know”. Among all the possible answers, you wouldn’t expect a politician to say that. In particular, when her name is Hellen Zille, head of the main South African opposition party, the DA – Democratic Alliance. In 2008 she was awarded as the best mayor of the world, but now she the head of the Western Province. She was compared to Angela Merkel for her determination and to Margaret Thatcher by some fan of history. has met her in Cape Town to understand her point of view about the final balance of this 2010 World Cup.

Was it necessary to spend 33 billion dollars to host the World Cup?

We need to wait for the end of the World Cup to judge it. If global stereotypes about South Africa will fall and the world will have a new perception of our country, we will be able to say that yes, it was worth it. I don’t know whether football matches can justify the huge investment done by our government. However, infrastructures and radical changes made in the cities will remain, and this is a small step in the right direction.

But considering the difficulties numerous South Africans have to face in the townships, many people said that money could have been allocated in another way, to improve services for poor people, for example. What do you think about this?

The critical thing is to understand what the role of the state is. I think the role of the state is about providing infrastructures, rights and opportunities to make people able to express their abilities. Spending money to make South Africa a can-do modern democracy, a country able to attract capitals and skills, who knows how to keep them and develop, is perhaps the best way to serve the poors.

Is it true that as Cape Town mayor you negotiated with the government to build a new public housing area except the stadium?

When I became the mayor the deal was already been done to host the World Cup and to build the stadium. I asked the business plan and there was a lot of conflict around that particular issue. But the agreement was already been signed and we should achieve the best from it. And that’s what I tried to do.

Did you reach your goals?

We always build public housing areas. This year we built 9000 council houses in Cape Town.

Even before entering in politics you were very active in civil society, associations and NGOs. Did you apply that method of work to politics? If yes, in what manner?

I’ve dedicated a lot of my life to the fight for rights at a civil society level. And I really believe that the role of the government and parties is to guarantee, to promote and to protect people’s rights, and to limit the power of the state in intervening into people’s rights and limit the power of politicians. This is the main belief I’ve learnt through NGOS and civil society and I’ve tried to transfer it in my way of doing politics.

Some experts said that your way is a feminine way to carry out politics, focused on negotiation and on inclusion in discussion to get your message across – do you agree?

I don’t know if it is about being feminine. Let me say that: I have many stars. I can be confrontational and I can be very accommodating. I can negotiate and to lay down the line. It depends on the context. It depends what is appropriate to the context and what will get results in the context. Some very flexible politicians are able to read the situation and to apply the right method to achieve the best results. I think that I’ve achieved these results.

I would ask you something about the Cape Town Partnership. How did you come up with this idea to set up a non-profit organisation for the benefit of the city?

The idea was born in the late 1990s. In that period the inner city was quickly worsening, so we decided the create a sort of partnership among institutions, private sector and NGOs in order to be helped by each part of our society. Thanks to this partnership we have radically changed our city centre face, making crime rate drop of 90%. We have really transformed the city in a modern, viable city. The private sector had a special role on that level, because public institutions often lack in flexibility to quickly operate in particular situations.

Do you think that this method can be used also at a provincial level?

This method was applied in the city centre, but  it should first be used in the suburbs and in the townships. And that’s what we are trying to do.

How do you judge the first year of Zuma government? Did you expect the change regarding the policy in the fighting against HIV?

What change? He carries on having sex with whomever he likes. We have to look to what he says and what he does. Action speaks louder than world. He continues to have sex with multiple partners. The only solution to HIV is going to the core of the problem, which means changing behaviours. Unprotected sex with multiple partners is the root of HIV and if the government doesn’t cope with this problem and doesn’t change the culture, the situation won’t improve. And the president is not a good example.

How are you preparing for the 2014 election? What will be the message on which your party will base the campaign?

Better governments.

16 years have gone by since the end of Apartheid, what do you think are the next steps to be taken at a social and political level in order to build a full democracy?

A real and regular change in government is needed, in a real multi party system. At a social level we have to reconstruct the education system and provide a cultural change at an equal opportunity level. We have to make women understand that they can’t leave the school at 13 because they’re pregnant, but they have to finish their education. We have to change the social environment in order to stop early pregnancies. This makes our society weaker and destroys their potentials. We have to make men pay the due maintenance for children born out of marriage.

In 2008, violence broke out against immigrants from other African countries. How can this problem be tackled?

The point is: the South African tax base can’t stand this flow of people coming from other countries of Sub-Saharan Africa. These migrants are refugees, people who flee their countries because their rights have been destroyed. They flee violence, they flee discrimination. As it usually happens, people don’t think enough about the political failure of state in Africa. This is a huge problem that South Africa can’t solve the problems of the all continent. In the poorest communities of South Africa the competition for resource and work feeds the violence against migrants, which is a fact we must condemn. But we need to fix the tragic phenomenon of the failed state in Africa otherwise we will not do any progress.

Many Africans live in shacks and slums or emergency shelters, what is the government doing on this front?

Its hard to face the issue of finding homes for our people. We have five and half million of people registered as tax payers in South Africa. And we have 13 million people receiving State grant. That’s the problem. That’s the core problem. If it were the reverse, with 13 million people paying taxes and 5 million needing assistance it would be different. But this is the situation.

What are the priorities for Cape Town and the Western Province at a social level?

Stopping drug abuse is an important social issue, as is ensuring that men contribute to the costs of bring up children born outside of their marital families and preventing young girls from getting pregnant.

You were criticized when you set up a all-male cabinet. Do you still defend your choice?

I chose the people who I thought had the best qualities for the job. Many women have chosen to stand for the national parliament rather than the provincial one meaning that there were fewer women to choose from. I don’t criticise them, everyone has the choice to make the decisions they feel most appropriate. In South Africa there are women who hold high up political positions. But I don’t believe in pink quotas. I think that more education and opportunities have to be provided for girls and once this has been established it will be they themselves who emerge in political and social life. Then there will no longer be the need to create artificial equality, women will emerge by themselves. To answer your question: I am very relaxed about this issue and look at the results.

A lot of people say that at the end of the day the World Cup has benefitted rich people and not the poor. What is your opinion?

I don’t think that the interests of the rich and the poor are automatically mutually exclusive. If the poor have services made available to them it is thanks to those who pay taxes. The reason why many poor people come to live in Cape Town is because there is a strong middle class who pay their taxes and this way institutions can guarantee some services even to those who don’t work. If you have capital and skills to build on you can do something for poorer people too. So, if the World Cup builds a platform of wealth and economic development this will benefit everyone.

By Emanuela Citterio – World Cup correspondent

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Direttore Responsabile Giuseppe Frangi