Open Letter to Helen Zille
As someone who speaks isiXhosa, let me start by saying uyibaxile. If your tutorials haven’t gone that deep yet, don’t worry, all I am saying is, you screwed up.
What were you and your strategists thinking when you conceived, agreed on and went on to launch the now infamous “Know Your DA” campaign?
For someone who is a former journalist, I suspect you did not apply yourself to one of the most important elements of communication: knowing your audience.
I am not sure who this campaign is talking to. When I first heard “Know Your DA”, I thought it was an internal campaign aimed at new DA members (and maybe the conservatives you inherited from the National Party) to educate them about what you really stand for.
From where I stand, those are [the] people who need to know “their DA”, not the potential or undecided voter. Your DA is NOT the DA of those who don’t vote for you, Helen.
I reckon that the DA does not know who it is talking to. And worse still, from where I am sitting your campaign actually tells me that the ruling ANC has succeeded in branding you as an apartheid party and therefore you are trying frantically to prove that you are not.
Your obsession to try and paint the DA as a party with struggle credo is not only disingenuous, it is unnecessary.
Newsflash: Black people who vote for you (and those who are likely to do so next year) are not oblivious to the fact that you are historically a white party that had little to do with the struggle. They vote for you as an alternative to the ANC. That’s all.
The black people that dance to your tune are not worried that you will take this country back to apartheid. They just see you as the only party able to take on the ANC, which they believe has failed in delivering a better life to them.
As for the obsession to associate the party with Nelson Mandela and even paint Helen Suzman as a struggle hero, it is just hopeless desperation which serves you no purpose.
As it has already been pointed out by your critics, in spite of her good heart, Suzman was no struggle hero. At best she was a liberal that opposed extreme apartheid, but she was also a white politician who supported elements of apartheid that suited her and your predecessors.
But this is not a political analysis. This is a communication critique and a reputation monitor. So, from those two points of view, “Know Your DA” fails dismally: it communicates a wrong message to the wrong people and; it is devoid of truth, which is a reputational red light.
Contrary to what your opponents always say, I reckon that from a communication point of view, your constant criticism of the ANC, coupled with what people believe is a good record of governance where you rule, are what drive people to vote for you. Not your contrived struggle credentials.
I think you should have taken a leaf from Linda McGurk, a communications specialist and author of The Power To Change the world. McGurk speaks of three Winning Ways to communicate your political message.
1. Be Genuine and Sincere
Regardless of political affiliation, people tend to prize politicians who are honest and authentic.
I put to you Helen that your campaign is neither. At best it is an exaggeration and at worst a lie.
2. Be Personal and Passionate
One of the main “sins” committed by politicians today is that they don’t have authentic passion.
As a party that is already governing some significant parts of the country, this was the time to be passionate and boast about your record in Cape Town, Midvaal and the Western Cape. This is genuine. It is more authentic that the contrived political heroism.
Be a Visionary
“When you get too involved in the nitty-gritty, you lose the audience.”
McGurk goes on to use the example of the same Mandela you lay claim to, saying that Mandela stayed true to his vision before and after he emerged from prison nearly three decades later with the same vision and unbroken spirit.
Your voters Helen, and those you are trying to woo, are interested in your message that the ANC is not fit to govern, I suspect. They couldn’t care less that you almost joined uMkhonto we Sizwe. They want you to tell them that you are better than the ANC, not that you are the same as the ANC as “Know Your DA” purports.
Henry David Thoreau Walden once quipped: “Public opinion is a weak tyrant compared with our own private opinion. What a man thinks of himself, that it is which determines, or rather indicates, his fate.”
Well Helen, after reviewing your “Know Your DA”, I am now convinced that you and your DA think lowly of yourselves. And that is your fate.