Read of the Week

Not Without a Fight

Helen Zille


Review: Karen Watkins

Western Cape Premier Helen Zille found herself in hot water recently but it was not for the first time, as you will find in her autobiography.

Reading this articulate and beautifully written story you, like me, might question whether her tweet on a recent trip to Singapore was deliberate or truly a mistake.

Not Without a Fight is more than a trip down the political memory lane of Cape Town and the Democratic Alliance.

It also provides a glimpse into the life and times of this principled, hard-working woman as she lays everything on the line, revealing the good and the bad, but not making herself out to be a hero.

She takes us on a journey through her life so far, starting from her tumultuous young adult years when she started starving herself and where she always earned her keep, was careless of trends and drove around in her old blue Toyota, wearing an old jersey and a pair of running shoes.

Men found her desirable and she had a queue of suitors but was sensible enough to know that good-looking guys were trouble.

It was on the eve of her marriage to a glamorous New Yorker that she met husband Paul Maree. She followed her intuition about him and he has stood by her side through thick and thin.

Children and post natal depression followed, combined with a career as a journalist and the anti-apartheid movement.

In 1989 she formed a public policy consultancy and in 1993 she was offered the position of Director of Development and Public Affairs at UCT.

At this time she also chaired the governing body of Grove Primary School, and in 1996 led a successful challenge against government policy limiting governing bodies’ powers to appoint staff.

The Democratic Party then invited her to write a draft policy for education in the Western Cape. This led to her becoming a Member of the Western Cape Provincial Legislature in 1999, and she was appointed MEC for Education.

In 2004 she became a Member of Parliament with the Democratic Alliance.

As someone who is apolitical, I wanted to skim read the political stuff but found myself drawn in as Zille reveals dirty politicking.

She devotes a large chunk of the book to academic Mamphela Ramphele and what led to the fall-out when she tried to bring her into the DA as the party’s first black leader and to merge with Ramphele’s Agang party.

Zille also reveals the dirty details and backstabbing that preceded Lindiwe Mazibuko’s exit as DA parliamentary leader.

In Zille’s own words about herself, she “climbed the greasy pole” on her way to the top while keeping her head above everything, not going with the partisan flow and fearlessly standing her ground in the political arena. It’s not surprising that this workaholic woman was named World Mayor of the Year in 2008 from a field of 820 candidates.

Not Without a Fight is a book to dip into now and then. It is, at times, hilarious, at other times poignant and in parts reads like a thriller.

But where was the editor?

At 509 pages, this hardback tome is too wordy and could have benefitted from a major nip and tuck.

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