A journalist is only as good as the last byline. It’s a harsh mantra of the newsroom, it means no one cares what you once did, only what you last did.
It’s something Helen Zille, a much storied ex-journalist, would know only too well.
In the greatest of ironies, the person who reached out to black constituents after taking over a party Tony Leon was accused of constructing for angry disillusioned whites, will leave as someone who glorified the merits of colonialism – and then tried to play an unreconstructed race card, lose herself in technicalities and still hammer away at the merits of her original argument.
It’s not a sin to make mistakes, to misread the moment. Journalists, particularly newspaper editors, do it often; wrong stories on the front page, stupid puns in headlines. The trick is to own it and fix it. Editors realise very quickly – much like successful husbands – to make a virtue out of apologising, to say sorry without qualification, sincerely.
Anything less is as fatal for marriage as it is for credibility with readers.
Former editors know to shut up and let go. The greatest mistake is to try to call the shots from the sidelines. It’s not just editors, former captains of sports teams are as guilty, former political leaders aren’t immune either. It’s understandable perhaps, the intoxicating allure of power and influence and the incredible feeling of loss when the moment has passed and the caravan has moved on with all eyes on the new person.
It’s difficult to know what inspired Zille to do what she did, even harder to understand how she could self-destruct the way she did. Our own history in particular is full of people, leaders especially, who have made mistakes but then self-corrected and emerged humbled, bruised, but otherwise unscathed. Some have even had their legacies enhanced because of it.
Zille didn’t do that, instead she fought to the last – the last shred of her dignity, the last shred of the unity in the party which she did so much to build.
Social media, that very funnel through which she had channelled her own destruction, was full of it – righteous members of the black intelligentsia warning the DA to fire her or fail at the polls in 2019, angry white liberals all incensed at the perceived injustice meted out to her, vowing to turn away from the party they ostensibly all belong to.
Off on the fringes, like the umpteenth bad iteration of WB Yeats’s poem The Second Coming, the EFF were upping the ante warning the DA that if it didn’t fire Zille from the party and as premier of the Western Cape, it would pull out of the various coalitions that allow the DA to run the metros of Joburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay.
In the real world, there were real storms, unavoidable forces of nature; Cape Town lashed by the biggest in human memory, Knysna razed almost to the ground in an inferno.
As for Hurricane Helen, her legacy might not just be the destruction of a party that squandered a golden opportunity to become the next government but, to paraphrase Yeats, proving the centre could not hold. What rough beast, its hour come round at last, comes towards us?
Disclaimer; This article does not portray the views of Hinnews.com but was written by a columnist Kevin Ritchie.